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Last Updated on November 22, 2018

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 January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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