The purpose of communication is to create greater functionality in any relationship.  As we’ve said before, in relationships you can have communication without intimacy but you cannot have intimacy without communication.  In a romantic relationship, the way we communicate with our partners will be different and more vulnerable than in other relationships. In order to hold onto the intimate relationship, we have two choices: use improved communication for better quality, or use the same underdeveloped communication and sacrifice quality of the relationship, but we can’t have both at the same time. Dr. David Schnarch refers to this relational idea as the  “two-choice dilemma.”

Relationships are at their best when they’re productive, when we’re doing and not talking about doing. Ask yourself,  “How will what I do and what I say make my partner feel?” If you know that you’re not being genuine or that you’re keeping secrets and your partner would be upset or they’d like to be included in your decision, do that and include them.  If you’re not sure, ask them about it. Always keep fairness and consideration in mind. 

If you know it’s a touchy subject, save talking about your relationship for the Couples Therapy sessions with your AASECT Certified Sex and Couples Therapist. Your therapist can show you a healthier process for communication in your relationship by learning and practicing new and more effective problem-solving skills and a guided process for developing intimacy in communication. If you’re looking for somewhere to start now, try the following specific communication techniques.  

Run things by your partner

Say “I’m thinking of inviting Jimmy and Suzy over for dinner with us this weekend.  Is that cool with you?” or “I’m thinking of trying this new recipe. What do you think?”  It’s important to run things by them, because your partner might say, “We have that appointment we talked about,” or “we had that plan to…” and you simply may have forgotten.  If they say, “I’d rather you not,” ask them why.  If they say, “Because I wanted to spend quality time with just you today” or “ I was thinking we could treat ourselves and get takeout” consider rescheduling or let them know you’d like that too and take that time to have a discussion.   

Reflect and respond, don’t react

Pause, “Zip the Lip” (as we call it), and take a breath. Remember that you cannot take back what you say, once it’s out of your mouth.  So follow the golden rule, as my mother used to say: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Make eye contact with your partner so they are more likely to feel acknowledged or seen, be authentic and, most importantly, be kind in your response, as you would with your friend or a colleague. Focus on your response as doing what’s best for the relationship.

Utilize Behavior Change Requests (BCR) 

This technique originates from the Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) program developed by psychotherapists Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. Hendrix and Hunt recommend this formula: “When ______ happens,” (list frustration behavior), “I feel ______,” (list emotion such as “scared, sad, mad or glad”), then I react by_____” (list behavior), “to hide my fear of _____” (anticipated or predicted event), “so I’d like _____” (list your underlying need). “Specifically, I would like _______” (state the corresponding behavior change request). Here’s an example. “When we’re in the car together and you speed when you drive, I feel scared, then I react by shutting down and getting quiet or by getting angry, so I’d like you to slow down so I feel safe.  Specifically, I’d like you to go the speed limit.” 

Remember that relationships are a work in progress, so be gentle with yourself and curious with your partner as you develop yourself and your relationship in new ways. Need some guidance? That’s what we’re here for! Reach out today to get started.