The most essential condition of speaking your truth, whether it be addressing a grievance and requesting some kind of change, presenting a different opinion, or asking for what you want, is having the courage to clearly state what it is you want to express. This is usually only possible when your sense of wellbeing and wholeness is inherently felt and not dependent on the approval, agreement, or even the love of your partner.
Without this inner sense of sufficiency, you might be too afraid to express your truth. You may also feel hurt, upset or angry and worry that if you do express yourself openly, your truth will not be received positively. Sometimes in expressing your truth, you might risk ending your relationship. If that does happen—sad and painful as it may be—if you possess an inner sense of sufficiency, the coherence and integrity of your self will not be ultimately harmed.
Few people are able to express themselves to their partner openly, clearly and fearlessly, especially in the early stages of romantic relationships. And, often when we fall in love, we either consciously or subconsciously believe that our partner is necessary for our fulfillment and completion. Individual therapy is often required to help us shift to the place of inner sufficiency needed to cultivate and sustain a long-term, healthy relationship. And, any number of spiritual practices that foster the recognition and realization of your most essential self can help, too.
Even without full self-realization, if two people are fairly well adjusted and have relatively healthy senses of themselves, there are some communication principles and guidelines that can facilitate speaking truth clearly and effectively.
Six effective communication skills for couples
- The most basic rule to clearly and personally verbalize your concerns, desires, or feelings is to begin a statement with the pronoun “I.” “I am feeling tired and would like to leave the party now.” “I would like to know if you want to have dinner with me.” “I am feeling scared.”
- Change your “You” statements into “I” statements. “You” statements tend to put others on the defensive. If the statement is critical, using “You” can make it feel as if the fault is totally with the other person. For instance, “You are insensitive.” Rather, when saying, “I experience you as insensitive,” you can take responsibility for the process of your assessment of “You” and no longer express it as the inarguable truth. Furthermore, when the “You” statement is positive or complimentary, it is more impersonal and far less revealing then a personal statement expressing my experience. Compare: “You’re a wonderful person” with “I feel wonderful when I’m with you.”
- Ask for what you want, not what you don’t want. Asking for what you want has a greater chance of being received and granted than expressing the negative, which often leads to defensiveness. Try saying, “I would like to go out tonight,” rather than, “I don’t want to eat in again.”
- As corollary to number 3, work on turning your complaints into requests for a more positive response. Rather than, “I’m tired of doing all the cleaning,” try “Would you please help me with the cleaning?” The need for help or to spend more time with your partner is more openly received when the desire is expressed as a personal request. For instance, “I would really enjoy spending more time with you,” rather than, “We never spend time together.” Complaints usually feel like criticism and are often met with resistance. Where as requests, if granted, offer our partners the enjoyment of pleasing us, which is pleasing to them.
- Beware of asking “why” questions when seeking information. Why questions are very often manipulative and have ulterior motives aside from just getting information. For instance, “Why did you do that?” can be a question that is much more interested in expressing criticism and annoyance than in getting an actual answer. It is more honest and direct to simply state, “I did not like what you did.” Likewise, “Why are you upset?” can he used to deny or invalidate your partner’s experience if their answer doesn’t explain or justify their reason satisfactorily to you. Even if the “why” question is a sincere request for information, it often elicits a “because” answer which necessitates a “why” to that “because.” This can become an endless process with no satisfactory resolution. Try, instead, asking a “how” or “what” question when you’re curious or requesting information about your partner’s experience and process. By doing so, you’re more likely to get an answer that gives your pertinent information and can help you to understand your partner better. For example: “What are you upset about?” or “How are you experiencing your upset.”
- Another powerful communication aid is changing your “buts” to “ands” when communicating two parts of a sentence. “But” stated after the beginning of the sentence tends to cancel out the first part. “I like you, but I don’t appreciate your moodiness.” Your partner will usually hear what follows the “but,” and the “I like you” tends to get lost. “But” is also exclusive and can alienate you from the entirety of your experience. “But” makes the two sentiments comprising the sentence separate and alien, which can be the beginning of disowning part of your experience. Replacing “but” with “and” unites both sentiments of the sentence. “I like you, and I don’t appreciate your moodiness.” With “and” both parts of the statement are recognized to be equally true and there is no conflict feeling them both simultaneously.
These six communication skills for couples can be very effective when used thoughtfully and regularly. However, if you and you partner are struggling to even begin a meaningful, open conversation about how to communicate, couples therapy can help you come to a place where you can develop these six skills and others that can improve the connection and communication in your relationship. Relationship counseling can also help you let go of resentments and blame, understand that there will be times when you feel hurt by your partner and create the space to address the sources of your pain in healthy ways.
If you are seeking couples counseling in New York City or Weston, CT, I invite you to call my office. We can discuss your particular relationship struggles and how I can support and guide you and your partner as you improve communication, deepen your bond and strengthen the connection and intimacy in your relationship