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How to Improve Communication in Relationships and Increase Intimacy

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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 July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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