We can all develop skills to help us understand our loved ones properly and make sure they understand what we really mean. Still, communication is bound to go wrong sometimes, but we can get better at it with practice.
Talking – listening = zero
Communication is a two-way street: listening is just as important as talking. And when you listen, you should really listen so you can really understand what the other person is saying. So, don’t interrupt. Look them in the eyes. And don’t just think about what you want to say next.
Using 'I' statements
If you have a disagreement with your partner, it’s best to express your own opinions and feelings. If you say how you feel about something, or how something the other person did affect you, it’s harder for them to brush it aside. After all, no one can argue about how you’re feeling, because only you know that.
For example, say:
‘I felt really hurt when you went to the cinema without asking me to join you.’
‘It made me sad when I saw you with your arm around that girl/guy at that party.’
There’s no arguing with this. Your partner can’t say, ‘no, you didn’t feel hurt.’
Compare this to saying ‘it was really thoughtless of you to go to the cinema without asking me.’ Then your partner can just say something like ‘no, it wasn’t, I thought you wouldn’t feel like it.’
Don’t bring in what other people think about the situation, or claim you know what your partner is thinking. Like, ‘You know you just put your arm around that girl at the party to make me jealous. And my sister says so too!’ That’s just going to be annoying, and it won’t help your partner to think about your feelings.
Keep your cool
Emotions are healthy and normal. But when you’re feeling emotional, it can be hard to express yourself clearly and listen properly. If you’re feeling furious, for example, it’s probably best to save the conversation for later. Otherwise, you might end up saying something you’ll regret. It can even be a good idea to put an order to your thoughts by writing them down before you bring them up with your partner.
Start with a positive, and then come with the critique
If you’ve decided to tell your partner that you’re unhappy or uncomfortable with something, try to do it in a way that doesn’t upset them. One way is to build on a positive. For example:
‘I love when you pull me close to you, but in the future, can you be a little less rough?’
‘Sex with you is wonderful. But could we try … next time?’
When your partner says or does something you don’t like
We all upset our partner without realising sometimes. So it’s good to let your partner know when you’ve felt upset. Your partner may not realise they’ve done or said something that you don’t like. So don’t start with accusations, yelling, or cursing. Especially if there are other people around. This will make your partner embarrassed and angry.
You’re going wrong if you find yourself immediately shouting things like:
‘You bastard! I can’t believe you did that.’
‘How dare you behave like that!’
Instead, a few minutes after the incident, when you’re alone with your partner, take a few deep breaths, and say something like:
‘I’m not sure you realised this, but I didn’t like …. (then you say the action/ thing they said) because…’
‘I just want to you know that I didn’t appreciate what just happened because…’
You can also point out what they said or did and ask why they did it. For example:
‘Why did you shout at me like that?'
‘Why did you push me out of the way?’
They may ask you what the problem is, so it’s good to be as specific as possible and say how it made you feel.
‘When you belittled me in front of your friends, it really upset me.’
‘When you didn’t call me this week, it made me sad, because I missed you.’
After your partner has listened to what you’ve said, they may agree or disagree. Don't get into a debate about whether the action or statement was intended or not, as this will lead to an argument. Instead explain calmly how that action made you feel (sad, angry, hurt, etc.) and how you would like to do it differently in the future.
‘I hate it when you shout at me as it makes me sad for the whole day.’
‘Don’t push me as it isn’t respectful and it hurts.’
You are trying to create a relationship where neither of you hurt each other. Try to build a solution together. Don’t tell them how to behave, but instead try to talk about what you can both do to avoid this situation in the future. Say what you would like to happen and don’t focus on what you don’t want. For example, discuss what words/names you find offensive, or how often you can reasonably expect to see or call each other.
If one of you gets angry, then perhaps it’s time to come back to the discussion later.
Physical violence is never acceptable, and if this does happen, talking may not be enough to solve your issues.
Remember, the same goes for when you’ve done something to upset your partner. It can be difficult to admit you were wrong. We can all lose our patience or make mistakes without realising it. But what’s important is the actions you take afterwards. Think about how your actions may have affected your partner, listen to what they have to say and pay attention to their feelings. Then discuss how you can both make things better in future.
No matter who you are, it can be hard talking about your feelings. However, learning to open up with your partner can be both rewarding and therapeutic.
Here are a few practical tips for discovering and sharing your emotions:
- Identifying your feelings
How do we know what we’re feeling and why? This is particularly challenging when we are experiencing new feelings and emotions. However, it is important to take a bit of time to with yourself to understand why you are getting so excited, happy, or upset.
If your partner does something that upsets you, pause and think about what exactly happened that upset you and why it makes you feel angry/sad/hurt etc. The better you understand the situation and your feelings, the better you are able to communicate it to someone else.
This is important because if you can’t express what made you upset and why, it's impossible to try to learn from the situation or do things differently in the future.
Talking about your feelings with a partner
Identifying your feelings can be challenging. But sharing these feelings can also feel uncomfortable – which is perfectly normal. But the more you practice sharing your feelings, the easier and more natural it will become. Start by sharing your feelings on a neutral topic, or mention how you feel about a friend or family member. And it’s okay to make it fun!
‘I really love my mum – and the way she expresses her love by feeding me great food!’
This shows your partner that you’re open to sharing your feelings – and that you are also open to them sharing their own feelings.
How to tell your partner when you are happy
It’s often easy to express yourself when you are angry with your partner. But you shouldn’t forget to share when you’re pleased about something they’ve done.
Everyone likes to hear positive things and compliments, so make sure you can express your appreciation for the little things on a day-to-day level.
To make it easier, try to divide the explanation into three parts:
- State your emotion.
- What was the action that made you have the emotion?
- Why did this action make you happy?
‘It made me feel really special when you introduced me as your boyfriend to your parents. It means now we are serious.’
‘I’m really happy today because we were able to spend time together and I got to know more about you.’
Telling your partner you are in love with them
When we fall in love with someone, it can be tricky to express these emotions – in particular, when we’ve never felt this way before, or do not know how the partner will respond.
If you’re developing strong emotions for your partner but are still unsure if you are totally in love, you can still let them know you are heading that way.
‘I just wanted you to know that I think you are great and that I am falling in love with you.’
Or, if you’ve passed this stage and feel that you’ve definitely fallen in love, chose a time when it’s just the two of you. It’s best not to tell them straight after sex, as they might think you’re confusing sex with love. Instead, go for a walk or return to a favourite hang-out – without people or distractions.
Then you try saying something like:
‘I am really enjoying being with you and you make me very happy. You’re such a great person and I‘m in love with you.’
If you are on the receiving end, don’t feel obliged to say ‘I love you’ back – especially if you don’t feel ready. Be honest and say you really like what’s happening, but that you’re not quite at that point yet. Your partner may not like this, but it’s better than lying to them and yourself about how you feel.
Listening to your partner’s feelings
Sharing your feelings is just half the story. As part of a couple, you also have to listen to your partner about their feelings. And this may be particularly hard if you’ve never been in a relationship before.
We often question whether our partner loves us or not. But if we don’t share our feeling we can’t expect them to do any different. So why not make the first move? Words can mean as much as actions, such as making love or giving gifts. Then give your partner space to speak. Listening to your partner is a time to be fully in the moment, so switch off that mobile phone, look them in the eyes and try to patiently understand what they’re telling you.
How to respond to each other's expression of feelings
When your partner chooses to share their in-depth emotions with you, listen and repeat back your partner's feelings in your own words – letting them know you understood what you just heard. If your partner states something has made them sad or angry, ask if they want advice on how to solve the problem. They may say no, and if so respect that and later find a calmer time to discuss the situation
Also, don’t be in a hurry to shut your partner up when they are sharing their emotions or feelings. That may jeopardise the entire effort. Oftentimes, people get very uncomfortable with so many words and feeling emerging that they want to just end it all and hurry the process up. This can be quite insulting to your partner who too is mustering up a lot of effort to share their feelings with you. Make sure that when you decide to listen, you've given them your full attention for as long as they want to share.
Expect to make mistakes
Learn from your mistakes. These should be seen as opportunities to learn more about yourself and your partner. And as you learn more about each other's feelings, you will develop a deeper, more intimate relationship.
By learning the above steps, you’ll hopefully come to feel more emotionally connected with your partner. Besides providing healing and comfort, it can also have an amazing effect on your sexual intimacy.