How can my partner and I communicate better?

What is healthy communication in relationships? Susan Costello, relationship expert, tells you all about it.

Almost every couple that I work with says they need help with ‘communication’. It is such a broad, catch-all term that begs definition.  The dictionary says it is: “The imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.” Is there sufficient ‘interchange’ in YOUR relationship?

Much attention is given to the words used by partners to express themselves as a means to improve communication and there is merit to that. For example, I would encourage individuals to speak from the first person (I this and I that) and in a feeling mode such as “I feel angry that you didn’t call home to say you would be late” rather than “You are an inconsiderate rude person for not calling home”.  The former is more palatable than the latter which will certainly put your partner on the defensive. The simple formula is “I feel [blank] when you do [blank]”. Communication 101, end of story, right?

Not so fast. Communication between partners is incomplete without the introspection on the part of the aggrieved partner after asking themselves, “What is REALLY going on for me?” Upon introspection, the feeling of anger might really be covering up the feeling of hurt (hurt being a primary emotion and anger being a secondary). Then look further and deeper….. why does this hurt me? By extension, would full communication sound like this instead? “I am hurt that you didn’t call home to say you were going to be late because that feels like I am not important to you. I want to know that you are thinking about me and my feelings and that I am your priority.”

When expressed that way, the work can begin. How can your partner be late sometimes but still demonstrate that they are thinking about you? As long as there is empathy (which is often eclipsed by defensiveness) and motivation, solutions can be found. Go looking for them!

Susan Costello, MA, LHMC, CPCC, is a licensed counselor and certified life coach working with individuals and couples in Sherborn. She has been in practice for thirty years and is a relationship expert. Helping people have healthy relationships – whether with a partner, friend or family member- is her mission. You can ask her questions for this column by submitting a contact form through her website: www.ExceptionalCoaching.com


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