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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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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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