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How to Improve Communication in Relationships and Increase Intimacy

How to Improve Communication in Relationships and Increase Intimacy

Relationships never exist by themselves in a vacuum. When two emotional beings come together, they bring their own past experiences and expectations. Over time these expectations can strain a relationship and you may feel like your partner doesn’t care because they don’t act the way you think they should.

It can sound like relationships will inevitably deteriorate, but in the corner for relationships is communication. And it is one of the most critical elements in understanding the each other and harmonizing your expectations.

Signs you need to improve communication

No matter how long you have been together, even small misunderstandings become mountains when your communication is deficient. Ineffective communication will cause partners to fire insults, retreat from the situation and even emotionally detach from each other.[1]

What are indicators that you are struggling with communication in your relationship? Consider the following signs:

  • You are having trouble getting through to your spouse; you talk about the same issue over and over again without coming to an agreement.
  • You seem unable to have a decent conversation without turning it into an argument.
  • You fear to bring up certain topics.
  • You do not talk meaningfully about anything anymore.

What effective communication really means

The most common myth about communication in relationships is that since you talk to your partner, and you share the same space a lot of the time, you automatically communicate.

Communication is much more than talking and hearing what the other person is saying. It is paying attention, getting your point across clearly, understanding your partner, validating their perspective and getting through to each other in a constructive way.

Also, what do you talk about? If it is always the ‘surfacy topics: ‘How are the kids?’ ‘How is your work?’ ‘How is your mother?’ You are not really communicating.

Effective communication is tough on the issue but soft on the person.

In every communication situation, there are two elements present: Your partner and the issue you are addressing. When you communicate effectively, you are able to be soft on your partner and tough on the issue.

How to improve communication in your relationships

Communication will either make or break your relationship. You can improve your relationship today, right now by practicing some of the following strategies of effective communication:

1. Just do it: Communicate!

We are so busy working, checking homework, making dinner, drawing strategic plans… who has the time to talk and tell their partner exactly what is on their mind?

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Also, sometimes, even when we have the time, we do not want to open up that can of worms. It is difficult to discuss some subjects, and we are tempted to avoid them. Shutting down your feelings becomes more appealing than having a heated discussion.

Other times we simply expect our partners to know what we are doing, thinking or what we want.

The risk with these approaches is that the tension will continue building and eventually one of you will snap. It is much better to get things out in the open regularly rather than waiting to have big rows that might damage your relationship.

So the first strategy on communication is simple: try it (even when it seems tough, not the right time or not important).

2. Listen actively

One of the most critical aspects of communication is listening. Most times, communication between couple entails each partner trying to get their point across.

Effective communication demands that you become a good listener. What is more, active listening is much more than being quiet.

Listening is a skill that calls for you to develop a genuine interest in your partner. Be curious about your partner’s point of view rather than trying to anticipate every situation.

Active listening involves:[2]

  • Paying attention to your partner.
  • Tolerating your silence.
  • Paying attention to your partner’s nonverbal communication.
  • Reflecting and paraphrasing what your partner is saying: I hear you say you feel angry when I ……….. Is that what you are saying?

Rather than:

  • Daydreaming and thinking about other things while your partner is talking.
  • Thinking of what you will say next.
  • Judging what your partner is saying.
  • Listening with another objective other than to understand your partner.

Learn more about how to practice active listening from here:

How to Master Active Listening Skill

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3. Pay attention to your non-verbal behavior

A study revealed that nonverbal communication accounts for 55 percent of how you and your partner understand your message.[3] Communication is much more than what you say. In addition to words, you also communicate through:

  • Tone of voice
  • Eye contact
  • Your gestures
  • Posture
  • Facial expression
  • Nodding
  • Clenched jaw
  • Balled up fists
  • Rolling eyes

If you ignore your nonverbal communication, you may not know that you are communicating messages of anger, distress, disgust or disrespect, and your partner will react to them accordingly.

The greatest problem with communication is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply. – Roy T. Bennett.

4. Show respect

It is essential to maintain and express respect for your spouse at all times. Authors of The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work encourage couples to put the feelings of their partners before their need to be understood.

Even when you are arguing, be careful what you say and how you say it. An angry or dejected partner is less likely to engage in a conversation effectively. Remember, you cannot take back words that you have already uttered.

5. Spend quality time together

Connectedness and communication go together.[4] Having fun together brings you and your partner closer. The closer you are, the more you are inclined to share your innermost thoughts and feelings.

Pick a common hobby, have regular date nights, spend Sunday afternoon cuddling under the blanket. The more fun you have, the more you will communicate.

6. Be honest with each other

Great communication is anchored on honesty. Speak up when you are hurting, or you disagree with your partner.

Do not pretend to be happy if you are not. Honesty will help you and your partner to solve problems more efficiently.

7. Ensure the timing is correct

While you want to tell your partner everything, it is wise to find the correct time to do so. If it doesn’t seem to be the right time, hold on until you find a time and place that is most appropriate.[5]

Something that may be rejected if you express it now may be actually heard or considered by your partner if you bring it up at a different time.

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8. When you are wrong, own it

Taking responsibility for your actions shows that you are mature. Being defensive will make it difficult for your spouse to raise an issue next time.

Remember, there is no shame in admitting that you made a mistake. What is illogical is adopting an egoistic stance that prevents you and your partner from moving forward.

9. Focus on one issue at a time

Let us say that your partner spent a significant amount of money without consulting you. So you decide to talk about the money. In addition, you talk about how she is not paying attention to you nowadays and how the house has become untidy. Not a great move!

Even if you have many issues that you feel need to be discussed, experts advise that you bring up a maximum of one item per conversation.[6] If you ignore this rule, you will overwhelm your partner with your avalanche of criticism, and he/she will shut down. Eventually, nothing will be solved.

10. Leave the past where it belongs

An occurrence in the past should remain in the past. It is history. Bringing up past behavior to defend the present day stance hinders your relationship from moving forward.

Once you deal with an issue, forgive and leave it behind if you want to keep your relationship alive.

After an argument, always move forward with a fresh slate. Resurrecting old wounds will increase the intensity of your discussion and steer it in an entirely different direction; far away from a resolution. Let sleeping dogs lie.

11. Prioritize your emotional intimacy

Your intimacy plays a considerable role in your communication. During intimacy, hormones that are responsible for bonding and attachment are released.[7] The more you are attached to your partner, the better your communication becomes.

Also, discuss your sex life. How many times a week is satisfactory for both parties? What do you need from your partner for a fulfilling sexual experience? Discuss your sexual fantasies as well. If you can talk about sex with your partner, you can talk about anything!

12. Voice your love

Research shows that when you look your partner in the eye even in time of conflict and say, ‘I love you,’ the brain is prompted to release bonding hormones. The hormones make you and your spouse more trusting and create a conducive environment for a conversation even when you are angry, frustrated or disappointed with your partner.

Many spouses only voice their love when they are content with the status of the relationship. Your expression of love for your partner should not be dependent on the atmosphere.

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13. Mind your language

Experts say that how you say something is as important as what you say. As such:

  • Do not use extremes. Accusations such as, ‘you never,’ ‘you always’ do not add any value to your argument.
  • Use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you.’ No one wants to be labeled negatively or to be condemned. Instead of telling your partner how awful he is, express your own feelings. When you do ‘this’ it makes me feel ‘that.’
  • Validate your partner’s feelings. Invalidation happens when you recognize your partner’s feelings but then discount, belittle, ignore or minimize them. Consider the following statements:
    • Your concerns are totally unfounded.
    • Who cares if you are angry?
    • Stop overreacting.
    • Get over it already!

As long as your partner feels that you do not acknowledge the importance of their feelings, you will both be stuck, and you cannot move forward with your communication or your relationship.

14. Focus on the positive

Communication between you and your spouse will be more successful if you adopt a positive attitude. Experts recommend that for any conversation, you should have a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative statements.[8]

Comparing your partner negatively to someone will be counterproductive to your discussion. ‘Why can’t you be more fun like Derek’s girlfriend?’ ‘None of my exes were as stingy as you are.’ You cannot hope to achieve anything out of your spouse when you have are already making them feel so inadequate.

Avoid judgment words and loaded terms: ‘you are acting so childish right now.’ ‘I am so tired of your ‘poor me’ attitude.’ Your partner will respond in anger and you will never get anything resolved.

Couples who know how to communicate effectively are able to nip issues in the bud before they turn into significant relationship eating problems.

Being more intentional about your communication techniques will help to create a safe place in the relationship where all issues can be addressed and solved. Always think carefully about the impact of what you are about to say to your partner.

Prioritize understanding your partner a relationship instead of focusing on winning in your arguments. It is better to be happy than to be right.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Randy Skilton

Randy is an educator in the areas of relationships and self-help.

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

2. Be Honest

A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

4. Succeed at Something

When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

Final Thoughts

When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
[2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
[3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
[4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
[5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
[6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
[7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
[8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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