After my marriage ended, I swore I would never stuff down my emotions and act like everything was OK or remain silent about what I needed from a partner. I was going to be open and communicate effectively.
I had no idea how hard it is to know what you want and articulate it. I had no idea how hard it is to express your feelings without hurting the other person. No wonder I just let things pile up internally in my marriage. No wonder when I finally couldn’t take it anymore I recklessly and ineffectively exploded verbally.
According to Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller, authors of, Attached. The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love, the goals of effective communication are to help choose the right partner and to make sure needs are met in a relationship.
What is effective communication?
Effective communication is expressing your needs and expectations to a partner in a direct and non-accusatory manner. You do this by using inoffensive and non-critical language that doesn’t make your partner feel attacked. Your partner’s well-being is taken into account along with yours.
In Attached, Levine and Heller list the five principles of effective communication as:
- Wear your heart on your sleeve. Be vulnerable.
- Focus on your needs. Get your needs across while keeping your partner’s well-being in mind.
- Be specific.
- Don’t blame.
- Be assertive and non-apologetic. Your needs are essential for your happiness even if others don’t see them as legitimate.
I would add, 6. Wait until you are calm.
Are you unknowingly critical?
The most difficult part is not coming across as blaming, attacking or critical. As an INFP/INFJ Myers Briggs personality type, I thought I had tact and diplomacy down to a science. We are the counselors, the listeners, the healers. Aren’t we naturally soothing with our words?
I’ve been informed by past boyfriends, that is not always the case. They felt when I expressed what I needed, I was saying, “This is what you are missing” or “This is what you do wrong.” Their response to my vocalized need for more relax time, fewer interruptions or more emotional connecting? Defensiveness. I thought I was doing well by being honest and forthright. I knew from experience that hinting at what I wanted didn’t work. I thought I was sharing knowledge about myself, but they felt it as a list of our incompatibilities. Perhaps my delivery needed work or perhaps they were not secure about themselves or relationships.
How to make your words palatable
I’ve since learned it is imperative to use “I statements” and the words want, need and feel to keep the ownership and onus with me. For example, “I feel disconnected when we don’t have quality time to talk” instead of “When you are so busy we get disconnected.”
It is also important to allay your partner’s fears at the beginning of the discussion. Perhaps sit close to them and hold their hand. Start by stating that your hope is to work through the issue and come out a stronger couple.
Responses to effective communication are telling
Effective communication gives you answers about your relationship either way — negative or positive. It can show the insecurity of a partner or it can deepen your relationship. If a partner takes your concerns seriously and tries to make you feel better, the relationship deepens. If a partner belittles you or makes you feel needy, the relationship suffers. Do they respond with concern for your feelings or do they respond by building their case of facts?
When I expressed my needs in the past, they often turned into arguments that never reached resolution. There was not a mutual effort to work through it. There were only hurt feelings and defensiveness. As I mentioned in Beyond Fun, Sex and Coffee… two key ingredients to a secure masterful relationship are responsiveness and the belief that your partner has good intentions. These were missing in my marriage and unsuccessful relationships. I know I lacked those traits in my marriage.
According to Attached, often insecure people can’t get in touch with what is bothering them. They get overwhelmed with emotions and lash out. That describes me in many ways.
Slowly, through different (failed) relationships and intense self-analysis (of course), I am learning to pause, label my emotions and gather more information before expressing my frustrations, needs and assumptions. I am also learning to spot secure partners who make my concerns their concerns; partners who know and expect effective communication.
How good are you at communicating effectively? How do you know you’ve done it well? Do you have a partner who does not communicate well?
If you need help communicating effectively with your partner, I’d love to work with you. Please contact me for relationship coaching.