‘Communication is the key to a healthy relationship’. ‘My relationship went downhill because we couldn’t communicate.’ ‘Poor communication is a predictor of divorce’.
We’ve all heard so much about how important communication is so much that it sometimes feels cliche. However, despite the banality of old adages about communication, it is indeed one of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship. That makes it worth rehashing and leaning into. We’d like to share five of our favorite tips for improving communication with your partner, and we bet at least one or two of these will be new to you.
- Practice the Platinum Rule
You’ve probably heard of the golden rule–treat others the way you want to be treated. But, have you heard about the platinum rule? Rather than treating others like we’d like to be treated, the platinum rule dictates that we should treat others how they want to be treated. Why is this important? Well, we don’t all agree on how we’d like to be treated…especially in relationships. One person might desire more space, while another might desire more closeness. Some prefer to be spoken to with an abundance of politeness, while others prefer communication to be direct, frank, and to the point. Partners in romantic relationships will rarely want to be treated the exact same way; there are likely to be differences ranging from communication style to how and with what frequency they like to be touched.
Allowing the platinum rule to guide how romantic partners relate to one another can dramatically improve relationships. In order to treat someone how they’d like to be treated, it’s necessary to both know how they want to be treated, and put that knowledge into action. Although this may sound simple and obvious, we don’t always do it. Can you recall a few times when you knew what your partner wanted, but you weren’t mindful enough in the moment to actually do it? Can you recall a few times when your partner didn’t treat you how you like to be treated, despite the fact that they do know? We all experience these lapses in awareness, but intentionally practicing the platinum rule as often as possible is a very powerful way to make our partners feel truly seen and honored. How do you feel when your partner goes out of their way to make your favorite dish exactly the way you like it, as opposed to the way they like or know it? We’re guessing that such a meal’s effect on your heart is just as strong as its effect on your taste buds.
Practicing the platinum rule involves improving your communication because it requires you to communicate about how you each want to be treated in different situations. On the flip side, the more readily you two practice the platinum rule, the more loved and understood you’re going to feel around each other. A strong sense of love, understanding, and being understood are three elements that underscore transparent and open communication.
- Designate Device-Free Time Every Day
Yea, yea, this again…everyone already knows that it’s important not to be on the phone all the time when around one’s partner. However, despite the best of intentions, many readers will likely admit to indulging in more device time than is really optimally conducive to a healthy relationship. Others will nod knowingly and call to mind their own complaints or misgivings about their partners’ excessive screen time.
The constant presence of phones, laptops, iPads and more is so normal and so constant that in any given moment, it likely feels fairly innocuous to absentmindedly pull down the notifications from top of the screen. However, many small moments of lapsed presence add up to a major deficit in a relationship’s emotional bank account, which can lead to conflict escalation and a cycle of negative feelings and interactions that snowball and gain momentum over time. Nowadays, many relationships suffer as a result of device overuse fueling lack of presence during what should be quality time.
In order to mitigate this risk or proactively stop it from occurring, we recommend couples designate device-free time every day. You can decide between the two of you how much time and when, but putting down the phones during a particular time slot each day should become an important part of your routine. If you choose, you may allocate that time as together time, or you may specify that it doesn’t necessarily even have to be spent together. You might read (an actual paper newspaper) while your partner cooks, for example. If you do it this way, it should be a longer chunk of time (a couple of hours, perhaps) so that all interactions that happen organically during this timeframe will not be disrupted by the temptation of answering a message on Facebook or WhatsApp. You should also choose a time during which you’re likely to both be in the same place, and it should be the same time every day. For couples with busy schedules, an hour or two before bedtime is recommended.
If you’re thinking ‘this is so unreasonable; sometimes I get messages that I really should respond to late at night…how am I supposed to not check my phone past a certain time?’, we’d like to answer that question with another couple of questions: 1. Is an inability to be away from the phone for an hour not a somewhat problematic state of affairs in the first place, whatever the reason? And 2. Is there anything you can do to set boundaries between your availability to be contacted and your free time, so that this doesn’t happen?
Designating device-free time doesn’t only encourage more presence during interactions, it also has the knock-on effect of making you slow down and engage with reality beyond the screen. It can also potentially decrease stress levels. All of these things are good for a relationship and make you more able to communicate calmly and mindfully with your partner.
- Every Once in Awhile, Shut Up and Listen
Do you have the gift of gab? Although chatting or even ranting away to our heart’s content can feel fun and even cathartic, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the other person in the room: your partner. In many relationships, one person tends to listen more while the other tends to talk more. If this describes your relationship, it’s absolutely crucial for the partner who tends to talk more to be not only willing but proactive about sitting back and listening from time to time. Well, preferably more often than just from time to time.
Listening is the most important (and most underrated) relationship skill, and it provides a huge part of the foundation upon which your knowledge and understanding of your partner is built. Effective listening is also the cornerstone of one’s ability to practice the platinum rule (above). Additionally, the more one listens, the more deeply they can know their partner. The more deeply one knows their partner, the more successfully they’re going to be able to communicate with that person.
- Learn about Conversational Styles
You know that weird feeling when you think you SHOULD be connecting with someone, because you share common interests, hobbies, values, or experiences–yet for some reason, the flow of the conversation just doesn’t feel very good? Oftentimes, this can be chalked up to differences in conversation style. In romantic relationships, differences in conversational style can lead to one partner feeling overwhelmed and the other feeling like their attempts to connect are falling flat.
Most people have either a predominantly high involvement conversational style or predominantly a high considerateness conversational style, although this is a spectrum. High involvement folks are likely to speak more and faster than their high considerateness counterparts. They interrupt and are not offended by interruptions and they often engage in simultaneous speech (which their highly considerate counterparts might think of as ‘talking over each other’). They take interruptions and simultaneous speech as a sign that their interlocutor is engaged in the conversation, whereas they may interpret silence as a sign that the person is not interested. They could even assume that silence indicates lack of rapport, and might ramble on in an attempt to build rapport. They may also expect the other person to jump in as they’re starting to wind down what they’ve been saying. If this does not happen, they may continue talking indefinitely, which may make a high considerateness person feel overwhelmed or like they cannot get a word in.
People with a high considerateness conversational style, on the other hand, pay close attention to the balance between listening and talking. They strive to make their conversational partners feel heard and they appreciate when the other person does the same for them. They likely do not talk as fast, may pause to think more, and are more comfortable with silence and less comfortable with interruptions and simultaneous speech. They will likely let another person completely finish what they were saying before they jump in. If interrupted, they may stop talking unless asked to continue.
When these two styles interact, especially in a romantic relationship, they may at times completely misinterpret one another’s cues and end up feeling like the conversation just isn’t flowing the way it should–even if they have plenty to talk about and care about one another deeply. The simple act of learning where your partner falls on the spectrum of conversational style can illuminate some of the dynamics behind your conversations and give you a framework and vocabulary you can use to improve your communication. For example, if you have a high involvement style and your partner has a high considerateness conversational style, you might improve your communication by paying extra attention to how much you listen to them versus how much you talk. And if you are the high considerateness one and your partner is more high involvement, learning about their style might help you to take interruptions less personally and interpret their conversational cues in a more correct light.
- Consider a Prenup
There are a myriad of ways discussing a prenup can improve your communication as a couple. One of the major reasons many couples shy away from prenups is because the whole process is basically all about talking about uncomfortable and delicate topics (like potential divorce and money management), which is just about as popular an activity as shaving your grandpa’s back.
However, looking at uncomfortable things without turning away can help to make them less threatening and less likely to cause problems down the line. It is a way of disarming them.
When you draft a prenup, you will go through the process of providing full financial disclosure, discussing how you’ll manage finances during your marriage, and making plans for how you’re going to take care of yourselves and each other should your marriage ever end. None of these topics are comfortable, but they are all very important things to discuss and get on the same page about before marriage. And, they’re a heck of a lot easier to tackle as well as far less threatening when you actually talk about them up front versus when they’re bouncing around the back of your head growing louder and making you feel uneasy.
Communicating about difficult topics is a mandatory part of the prenup process, and it is excellent for up-leveling your communication as a couple. You’re going to have to talk about many more difficult topics as you live, grow, and age together, and drafting a prenup is an excellent way to warm up those communication muscles and increase your capacity to navigate delicate conversations together.
Economy, P. 2022. How the Platinum Rule Trumps the Golden Rule Every Time. Retrieved from: inc.com/peter-economy/how-the-platinum-rule-trumps-the-golden-rule-every-time.html
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