All of us want attention from our partner and to know we are loved and cared about. However, we can also fall into the trap of thinking our partner should miraculously “know” what we want.
The bottom line is, when we don’t say things out loud, there is a good chance we won’t get what we are looking for.
When people say, “I want to communicate better”, it sometimes means: “I want to know I’m important to you”; “I’m feeling lonely”; “I want contact”; or “I don’t feel understood or validated”. The clearer we can be about what we are communicating, the more likely it is that we will get our feelings validated and needs met. If you want a hug and to feel cared for, ask for it directly.
Many of us often hope for things from our partner and when we don’t get them, we retreat and feel bad. This is another version of believing our partners can read our minds! It is important for you to ask for what you want, not demand it, but give your partner the benefit of knowing what you like and what’s important to you. It doesn’t mean your partner will do what you ask but it does give your partner a better chance to respond by knowing what’s important to you. Asking for what we want also means we have to be prepared to negotiate about it. This means sometimes compromising with your partner so that each of you gets, maybe not all, but some of what you want – a “win/win” situation. Here are a few ideas to help you with this:
Make a date with your partner:
People communicate best when they set aside time for it on a regular basis. This might be a “date” with your partner. The concept of a date keeps alive the idea that you are important to each other. When we actually “date” someone new in our lives, we are usually on our best behavior – act the same way for your partner! In other words, show the same respect and courtesy you would that new date you’re trying to impress.
Set aside regular time to be with your partner:
Some couples develop a habit or ritual of sitting down together at some point every day, or on one or more occasions in a week. This is a good time to share with your partner how you are feeling about yourself or about what’s going on in your life. This is a time partners may devote to discussing practical issues (money, vacations, housework, upcoming events, time spent together or apart, the kids and so on). It is also a time to spend talking about what you want from your relationship or what you would like to see change. Setting aside time for these kinds of discussions is important. When these things are communicated out of the blue, it can lead to arguments. It can then be harder to sort out because the issue itself gets confused with the negative feelings about what just happened.
Make “I” statements:
Making “I” statements and describing behaviours, works better to get what you want than telling the other person what they are doing wrong and should be doing right.
For example, if you are not comfortable with the way that your partner is speaking to you, it is tempting to attack your partner’s personality or make a sweeping statement regarding their flaws. For example, you may be tempted to say, “You never say anything nice to me. You are always mean and critical”. This will almost certainly cause your partner to lash out as a way of defending themselves. Alternatively, try saying to your partner, “When you talk in that tone of voice, I hear it as a put down and I just want to leave the room. I could listen to you better if we sat down, we faced each other, and you spoke in a softer way.” Rather than making a statement about what is wrong with your partner, and therefore risking that they will react defensively, you are expressing the effect that their behaviour has upon you and asking for them to consider your feelings. You are also making space for your partner to speak about how they may experience things differently.
Recognizing and being OK with difference is important in relationships. Difference can take many forms and may vary in terms of the degree to which we differ from our partners. However, differences in beliefs and attitudes about things such as intimacy, housework or parenting are bound to arise, particularly when we are in relationships with individuals who may not share our racial, class or cultural identities.
As difficult as it may be sometimes to negotiate our differences, it is important to recognize that difference is also a source of strength as it allows us an opportunity to reflect on those attitudes that may not serve us well or explore other ways of being connected to people in our lives.
Listen to your partner:
Communication improves when we listen to the other person carefully, ask for clarification when we don’t understand something and respond thoughtfully to what the other person has said. Facing each other, taking time and feeling relaxed all contribute to better communication.
Allow your partner to influence you:
Be curious about what is important to your partner, how they feel about things, and try and incorporate this awareness into your behaviour and responses towards your partner. For example, your partner may think it is important that your children learn to play team sports as this was something that was valued in their family when they were growing up. You may not feel the same. However, sometimes it is enough that something is important to our partners. Making concessions is a way that we let our partners know that they are important to us and we care about how they feel.
Tell your partner what you like about her or him:
Telling your partner on a regular basis what you like about her, or him, will help to make your partner feel valued and cared for.
Distinguish abusive behaviour from conflict in your relationship:
If you are concerned that conflict in your relationship is resulting in abusive behaviour, talk to someone and get some help.