Why is it so difficult to communicate with our partners? Whether we’ve been together one year or 50 years, bad communication habits can develop and become ingrained.
My husband and I will celebrate our 45th anniversary next June. You’d think after all these years, we would know how to communicate with each other. But, lately I’ve noticed we’ve been getting cranky with each other about how we communicate.
We collaborate on many projects and our desks are just ten feet apart. I’m guilty of calling out a question without looking to see if he’s working on something.
We decided to sit down and discuss some of our communication issues – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
As a result, we came up with some basic do’s and don’ts for communication. We’ve put them into practice and have happily discovered that they really do make a difference in our relationship.
Do’s and Don’ts of Communicating with Your Partner
- Get your partner’s attention before you begin speaking—so they’re not in mid-thought or the middle of a project. For example, May I ask you something? Can I tell you something?
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Set the scene – so they understand the context of what you’re about to say.
- Collect your thoughts and focus on what you’re about to say before you start speaking.
- Get face-to-face and look at each other. Stop washing dishes, folding napkins, brushing imaginary lint off your clothes!
- Observe before speaking. If your partner’s in the middle of doing something like reading an email, save it for another time.
- Use “I” statements to mirror back what your partner has just said as a way to show that you have a genuine desire to understand.
- Don’t multi-task. For example, don’t try to talk to her when she’s cooking or when he’s reading the newspaper or texting.
- Don’t use drive-by communication. For example, don’t come into a room, say something, and then leave. Wait around for a comment or response.
- Don’t leave a teaser. For example, don’t say: Remind me later to tell you about this fabulous meeting I had today.
- Don’t speak or ask a question from another room. Remember: face-to-face.
- Don’t finish your partner’s sentences. Silently count to ten if you can’t stand the wait. He may say something other than what you thought.
- Don’t interrupt with a lot of questions. Trust that your partner will cover everything that’s important in his own way. Then if you need more information or clarification, you can explain what you didn’t understand. There’s nothing more frustrating than an unnecessary question.
- Don’t have a “last word” competition. If you find yourself going back and forth on a point, ask your partner to clarify what he’s trying to say and then repeat it back.
One of the most powerful tools we’ve used over the years is to schedule a “communication date” with each other once or twice a week. One partner takes 15 minutes to say whatever is on his/her mind without interruption or comments from the other. Then the other partner gets a turn to speak without interruption while the other listens.
Taking the time to respect and appreciate your partner’s perspective can go a long way in strengthening communication. It definitely takes patience, energy and focus to practice these basic skills, but the payoff is worth it. Once they become a habit you’ll notice when you’re slipping and you’ll correct yourself.