While fights, arguments, and disagreements are normal and expected in relationships, those that escalate into colorful and tumultuous drama are not. We avoid these toxic fights by picking a compatible partner who is a healthy communicator and learning healthy communication ourselves.
In fact, learning how to communicate better with your partner is proven to lower mutual resentment and promote deeper intimacy, respect, and trust in your relationship with them.
Down below, I’m going to present you with four critical ways you can efficiently communicate in your relationship and avoid turning everyday disagreements into dysfunctional and drama riddled shout-fests bursting with invectives and obscenities.
4 ways to communicate effectively in a relationship
As I always say, there are far more techniques for effective couple communication out there. This one is exclusively an accumulation of the most common and beneficial ones when it comes to my life and my clients’ results.
1. Determining where your partner is coming from
Note: this method is more of a pre-preparation for other effective couple communication techniques.
Ever heard of the phrase, “you should walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you judge them?” If we put a little spin on the words to make them merge with our theme, they would read like this:
“You should try to understand your partner’s perspective before you continue/or start arguing with them.”
The keyword here is “understand.”
Amid any disagreement, you have to understand, or at least try to, from where your partner is coming from. You find that out by investigating the backstory, also called the collective experiences behind their actions.
For example, if your lover doesn’t want a pet dog, while you do, what’s the reason that they don’t want one?
Maybe your partner fears dogs due to a traumatic childhood experience where they were severely bitten by one. Or perhaps they don’t want a dog because their parents or peer groups conditioned them to dislike pets in general.
Here’s another example of how failing to understand where your partner is coming from undermines your relationship, more specifically, the mutual respect, trust, and admiration in one.
Let’s say that Mary, who sees religion as a potentially life-changing set of principles, tries convincing her boyfriend to attend church with her. The only problem is that her boyfriend sees the idea of religion, especially church, as repulsive. In fact, it always puts a frown on his face. Therefore, he declines Mary’s invitation and politely explains his honest opinion on the subject.
After hearing her boyfriend’s views on religion, Mary has a choice to make. She can try to understand, accept, and ultimately respect them or disregard them as invalid and try to change them.
Unfortunately, she chose the second option. This means she kept pushing her boyfriend to go to church and change his views until he retaliated, which led both of them to get into a fight.
And even then, she hasn’t learned a thing but just kept mindlessly pushing and trying to change her partner to the point where virulent fights became a daily ritual.
Ultimately, when there’s conflict, or when you have fights with your partner – potential or already set in motion – always try your best to understand their point of view. More specifically, try to understand the full backstory behind their actions.
Implementing this technique into your life will open up the doors for other effective communication techniques to work even better and make your relationship more satisfying.
2. Use requests instead of complaints
You’d be surprised how many arguments you could avoid by saying, “I’m frustrated that you haven’t done XYZ yet, would you mind doing it till evening. I’m tired?” instead of “Why can’t you just do XYZ, geez!”
As you may notice, the former is a request, the letter a complaint.
And while this is the oldest trick in any psychobabble book, it’s still an incredibly effective method to prevent or even mend fights in your relationships.
Expressing a request instead of a complaint sub communicates that you’re not accusing or attacking your partner nor acting defensive. Just the contrary, it helps them understand your point of view, or more specifically, how you feel. It also makes them far more likely to do what you ask them to do and far less likely to end up feeling disrespected, unappreciated, or put down.
Here are five examples of how you can use requests instead of complaints to avoid unnecessary conflicts with your partner.
Complaint: “Hey, there’s shit all over the floor because of our guinea pig!”
Request: “Hey, I’m upset you didn’t clean up after our pet. You promised you would before I come home. Can you please do it now?”
Complaint: “You’re not paying any attention to me! Why are you so selfish.”
Request: “I would really appreciate it if you could listen to me. I feel rejected right now.”
Complaint: “Can you drive slower, for god’s sake!?”
Request: “I feel nervous when you’re speeding. Would you slow down a bit for me?”
Complaint: “Can you please stop talking? It’s irritating, and I have to study. You know I have a tough exam tomorrow.”
Request: “You know I love you and would like to let you finish that thought, but I’m swamped with my studies right now. Tell you what. Let’s continue our conversation in about an hour, and I’ll give you my undivided attention then. I would really appreciate that. Sounds good?”
Complaint: “You always forget to turn off the lights before we go to bed.”
Request: “I’m feeling pretty lazy right now. Do you mind turning off the lights before you come to bed? I don’t feel like getting up.”
In a nutshell, complaints often start with “You,” while requests with “I feel, “I need,” or “I wish.”
Conclusively, there’s no need to be perfect, but it is beneficial if you commit to catching yourself as often as possible when you’re about to complain. Then turn the complaint that’s on the tip of your tongue into a request.
3. Setting breaks for fights
It’s easy to get lost amid the chaos of arguments with your partner. Sometimes the frustration that arises from them can put us in a fight or flight mode or even paralyze us from responding.
All three reactions only make your partner feel more disrespected, unheard and misunderstood. Thus, it’s best if we don’t fall into these three states and instead try to keep a clear head by setting breaks in between fights.
One way to do this is by simply telling your partners something like this:
“Hey, this is getting out of hand, let’s take a quick 10-minute break, so we can cool down, and then let’s talk about XYZ like adults, without all the drama. Don’t worry, I love you, and I want to make this work, just not in this state.”
And that’s it.
These kinds of remarks indicate that you and your partner are a team, meaning that you’re there for each other and have no reason to be in opposition.
Remember, don’t face away from each other, lovingly face towards one another.
4. making compromises
Interestingly, understanding your partner’s perspectives and actions, communicating requests instead of complaints, and setting time outs is easy.
The troublesome part of effective communication in relationships is making compromises by the end of the arguments you’re wallowing in.
Ultimately, if you don’t compromise on things with your partner, you’re going to end up with a dysfunctional relationship devoid of fairness or with another heartbreak.
In general, there’s a wealth of topics we can compromise on with our partner. Some of them trivial, others life-altering.
For instance, we can bicker about who will prepare coffee, or we could argue about the optimal place and time to settle down and start a family.
In life, some compromises you make will be beneficial for both people in a relationship, and others won’t be. Some will exclusively serve your partner, while others will only benefit you. But at the end of the day, that kind of dynamic is to be expected. No relationship is 50/50.
Contrary to popular opinion, there’s nothing wrong with making compromises that solely benefit your partner. In fact, it’s healthy to do so.
But, what is not healthy and often gets misinterpreted, is sacrificing your core values, beliefs, and needs for your partner, which means making considerable sacrifices in areas of your life where you don’t want to make them.
For instance, if you don’t want kids but still end up having a couple because your partner wants them, then that’s not a good compromise – It’s a toxic one.
By now, you might be asking, what makes a compromise healthy or toxic? In short, the answer is the intention behind it. Let me give you an example to solidify this point further.
Let’s say you make an arbitrary compromise only because you’re afraid your partner will leave you if you don’t. In this case, the intention behind your compromise is toxic.
But if you’re making an identical compromise just because you want to do it and because you want to show your partner love, then that’s a healthy one.
It sounds a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Let me put the above definition into concrete terms
First, let’s start with a point of friction. For instance, your partner loves cats, and you don’t.
Next, let’s focus on your thinking patterns that inaugurate inside your mind when your partner presents you with their desire to get a cat.
If you at that moment think, “Oh god no. We have to get that stupid cat because if we don’t, my girlfriend/boyfriend will begin to argue with me again,” then you’re one step away from making a toxic compromise.
However, if you think along the lines of, “Well, I don’t like cats on the one hand, but I also wouldn’t mind if my partner gets one on the other. And despite everything, I want my partner to be happy, and getting a cat won’t really fuck up my happiness at the end of the day,” you’re one step away from making a healthy compromise.
Another variation of a healthy compromise in the above case would be if you agreed on getting a smaller pet, like a guinea pig, instead of a cat. This way, both you and your partner would benefit!
Ok, now you know the difference between healthy and toxic compromises. That’s great and all, but this knowingness still doesn’t change the fact that making certain compromises is often painful, mind-bending, and hair-rising.
In fact, compromising in core life areas like religion, ways of living, and beliefs surrounding kids and family can be near impossible.
Just imagine getting into a situation where your girlfriend would only stay with you if you transition from your religion to theirs. Or think how you would feel if your boyfriend wanted to get castrated while you have a burning desire to start a family with him.
If you ever get into a situation where you have to compromise on those significant areas, be sure to consider all of your options. Unfortunately, this includes pondering the nerve-wracking decision of whether to leave or stay in your relationship.
I wish I could tell you otherwise, but there is no easy way to make this decision. And no one can make it for you. It’s solely up to you to decide.
But here’s the way I would approach it.
First, think about what will be more fulfilling in the next 3 to 5 years: staying in your relationship or letting it go?
Then think about what’s going to grant you more copious amounts of emotional pain and turmoil in the next 3 to 5 years, staying in your relationship or leaving?
And in the end, based on those answers, make a decision.
I know those are challenging questions to answer. I mean, they both spit you headfirst into a vale of uncertainty, where you can easily get trapped obsessing about what to do, but you’re also going to be the one to blame no matter what path you take. You’re going to be the sole bearer of responsibility.
But let’s look at the bright side.
If you and your partner believe that your differences don’t present a relationship-shattering situation; if you two assume that your love will only get stronger over the years; and if you’re both prepared to communicate and struggle through your core value discrepancies, things will probably work out.
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