11 Communication Rules Every Couple Should Follow in Their Relationship
When thinking about what makes a relationship truly successful, a few words might come to mind: Trust, honesty, openness, and fun, for starters. But, one super important aspect that trumps all is communication.
Think in terms of a “bank account”
You can save or withdraw money from your bank account, and similarly, you have the power to save or use word choice depending on the situation with your partner. “Nobody likes receiving criticism, and it can especially hurt when it comes from someone you love and want to admire you. If you feel you need to express a few critical words, think of your relationship like a bank account,” explains matchmaker, relationship expert, and rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman. (Here’s how to accept criticism the right way.) That means, save your criticism and deposit your compliments. “It’s essential that there be far more deposits (in the form of praise, kindness, expressions of approval) than withdrawals (in the form of criticism), lest your relationship account go into the red. If the amount you praise and admire your S.O. far exceeds the amount you criticize, when the time arises to express any disapproval, it runs a much higher chance of being received and accepted,” Bregman shares.
Don’t get defensive
Of course, you don’t need to immediately take blame or apologize if you weren’t in the wrong, but there’s a difference between seeking the truth, or rather both sides to an argument, versus automatically getting defensive. “Successful couples are deeply committed to their shared future and crafting an incredible life together. To me, this is the ultimate ‘truth’ of any given dispute between people who love each other,” says Bregman. So, it’s vital that “when an argument arises, each party adopt the posture of ‘what can we do to move our shared life forward?’ instead of becoming petty and investing energy into showing why their point of view is correct, and why the other person is wrong,” explains Bregman.
When you’re wrong, own it
If you’re wrong, don’t shy away or hope it just goes away. Take responsibility for your actions, be sincere, and work to make the other person feel accounted for and reassured that you’ll behave better next time. Nobody on the planet is perfect, of course, but “while virtually everyone would agree with this statement, this widely-held truth often seems to go out the window when it comes to couples and their communication,” says Bregman. Those who communicate effectively have no difficulty admitting when they are wrong. And remember, there is no shame in admitting that you made a mistake. “What is embarrassing, though, is adopting an egoic posture that prevents you and your S.O. from moving forward constructively,” he cautions.
Ask open-ended questions
A closed-ended question is one that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” or a limited set of answers, such as “Tuesday” or “Wednesday.” “By contrast, an open-ended question is one that does not dictate any specific response, such as ‘What do you find most meaningful about your career as a doctor?’” says Bregman. While there are plenty of situations where closed-ended questions are appropriate, couples who consistently communicate with open-ended questions, to spark “big talk,” shows that they have sincere interest in their partners and want to create closeness, says Bregman.
Focus on one issue at a time
Let’s say your partner forgot to do the dishes. You’re upset. So, you decide to yell about the dishes and then get into how he was late for dinner last week, didn’t walk the dog on Tuesday morning, etc. Not a great move. “Even if there are many big things bothering you about your S.O., and you have a veritable list of ‘issues’ you feel need to be addressed, it is highly advisable that you bring up a maximum of only one per conversation,” says Bregman. “If you ignore this vital rule, you will overwhelm the other person, and they will have a tendency to emotionally shut down in your avalanche of criticism and hear nothing you are saying,” says Bregman. So, make sure to stay on point and within context of what it is you’re currently upset about.
Listen before speaking
Instead of spouting whatever’s on your mind, take a pause and listen to what your partner is saying, without interrupting until he or she is finished. Then, and only then, carefully formulate your response. “When someone is engaged in a high-stakes conversation, they have a tendency to (i) hear something they want to respond to, (ii) immediately stop listening to everything else the person is saying, and (iii) begin formulating their response while waiting for the other person to stop talking,” says Bregman. “While this is a very common communication dynamic, couples that communicate with excellence regard it as poison.”
Don’t rehash the past
An argument from the past should stay in the past. It’s history. Unfortunately, many couples revert to past behaviors to help defend their present-day stances. “Forgiveness and the ability to let things go are crucial if you want to keep your relationship alive. Yes, arguments will happen, but they need to be fully dealt with, and then forgotten about and never brought up again. This allows a couple to move forward daily with a fresh slate,” Bregman explains.
Save it for another day
If it doesn’t seem like the right moment to express yourself, (say your in-laws are over or you have a big meeting at work the next day), hold onto your feelings, and bring them up at a time when you’re alone with your S.O., in a calm space, and can both properly address them with care and rationality. “Just because something rubs you the wrong way about your mate, or you really want to say something to your S.O. that is bothering you about them, doesn’t mean you need to say it at all, and definitely not in the present moment,” says Bregman. “For example, when your husband is super hangry is probably not the right time to bring up X and Y ways he’s been insensitive to your emotional needs. That which might be rejected if expressed now, may actually be heard or absorbed by your S.O. if expressed at a different moment,” he adds. Find out the things happy couples do when they fight.
Don’t use extremes
Accusations such as “you always…” or “you never…” drain the flavor out of a relationship, making your partner feel like a zero. “Life usually isn’t black and white, and as such, couples that communicate well have a tendency to stay away from terms of exaggeration or over-generalizations,” says Bregman. Instead, “couples that communicate well use their criticism with pin-point accuracy and avoid the collateral damage that comes from the sweeping generalizations. This keeps your partner open to hearing what you have to say, extends to them at least some credit for when their efforts hit the mark with you, and incentivizes them to try harder in the future,” explains Bregman. Here’s what else you should never say to your partner.
Use “I” statements, rather than “you”
No one wants to be labeled negatively or told how to feel. Instead, focus on expressing your own emotions to relay how you’re feeling. “Healthy communicators stick mostly to using ‘I statements.’ So, instead of telling others how awful they are, ‘I statements’ instead express your own feelings and needs, especially related to the topic that is dividing you,” says relationship counselor, Jonathan Bennett. This creates peaceful resolution based on meeting each other’s needs. Next, find out the 12 things you should never do after a fight.
Don’t assume your partner knows what you’re thinking
No one is a mindreader. So, when you’re feeling uneasy around your partner, don’t assume your cues are acknowledged without verbally expressing them. “When your partner gives you a nonverbal look don’t assume…ask! We think we are mind readers but couples always get into trouble when they assign meaning to a look or a perceived grimace,” explains Jeff Larsen MA MFT BCPC. Great couples communicate well, without getting upset with each other for “messing up” by not understanding what’s going on in the head. If they are upset, they’ll openly say so, to resolve and move on. Here are 14 ways to resovle conflict in your relationship.