By Norelle Done
How honest are you with your partner? My husband and I have been together for 11 years, married for 7 1/2, and I firmly believe that the most important thing that’s kept us together and happy has been the depth and openness of our communication.
After all, surveys show that poor communication is the number-one reason couples break up.
We got married quite young: I had just turned 21, and he was nearly 22. This was nice for us because we had the opportunity to ‘grow up’ together, but it also meant that we had a lot of learning to do. We looked at the relationships of couples around us, with their varying degrees of success (and failure), and noticed some big issues to avoid in our own relationship.
For example, dishonesty was a problem for many couples, and not always to the extent of lying outright. Some people kept their fears/embarrassments to themselves, which appears relatively harmless with little things (hiding a wish/desire, covering up a junk food indulgence, etc.) but can actually crumble a sense of trust or assurance from your partner. Over time, hiding the little things can cause one partner or the other to find it easier to hide bigger things, or at very least, the two people constantly feel distant from one another.
In communicating with their partners, many people find themselves struggling with yelling, a competitive attitude, and inconsiderate behavior that is detrimental to good communication.
We decided to do something different, and committed to always be honest with each other – even when it was uncomfortable or painful. It feels so much better to be able to know that your partner actually, really knows you, because then you really know that they love you as the weird, slightly crazy person you are (we all are).
Here are my simple tips for honest communication:
- Build a foundation of trust. It does no good to tell your deepest, darkest secret only to have your partner share it with someone else or make a face that causes you to feel hurt or embarrassed. Good communication and healthy relationships must be built on trust. Here are some tips for building trust in your relationship.
- Try communication ‘games’. My husband and I occasionally play a modified version of “20 Questions”, where I’ll ask him 3-5 questions and then he’ll answer them, and then we switch roles. Questions can be about everything from “Would you rather ________, or ________?”, to “What’s one thing you have to do before you die?” or “Tell me your most embarrassing secret.” This can certainly take some ‘warm up’ with easier questions, and you need to build that foundation of trust, but this exercise can be both fun as well as good for your relationship. Here are some deeper questions to get you started.
- Set aside time to touch base and talk, regularly. Make communication a regular part of your day or week. For some couples, this will need to be an item on the calendar, otherwise it will never happen.
- Respond with patience and love. When your partner shares something that makes you feel uncomfortable, opt to talk before you shut down or get upset, and avoid responding in haste. Anger, disgust and judgment are hindrances to good communication and relationship building. Instead, ask clarifying questions, and gently share your feelings. Sometimes you will need to practice active listening, and absorb what your partner is saying instead of responding quickly.
- Be patient. It takes time to develop good communication in a relationship – you can’t develop it overnight.
The benefits of being completely open and honest are too numerous for me to count, but here are a few of my favorites:
- We trust each other deeply, which significantly reduces (and even eliminates) the occurrence of some of the things that couples who don’t trust each other experience: jealousy, anxiety, fear, and hurt.
- We actually know each other, and not just who the other person is today – we’re constantly communicating and learning more about the growing, changing person we’re partnered with.
- We feel safe expressing the things that make each of us feel embarrassed, scared, or upset – even when that thing is caused by the other person.
I hope these tips and benefits help you achieve a better relationship with your partner, through open, honest communication. Do you have other tips for how to improve communication in a relationship? Feel free to share them in the comments section below…