If you’re reading this, you’ve likely heard “communication is key” for any healthy relationship. While that is true, there is a lot more to that idea than meets the eye. Communication, like a key, can open the door to your partner’s heart (and your own as well). But with that, it’s important to know that communication styles, like keys, aren’t universal. Some “keys” that work for certain people may not for others. Some “keys” are bad to use on any person. And the truth is, there is no one-size-fits all, “master key” for relationship communication. Every couple is different because each person is unique, carrying their own personalities, past traumas, and relationship needs. It’s up to the couples to figure that out—together.
So, how can loving couples learn which communication styles are “keys” for their relationship? Some of that knowledge develops naturally, as partners learn more about each other. But seeing a couples counselor is another great way to improve communication—and it’s not just for struggling couples, either. Therapists give you an objective, expert perspective, which can be helpful for any relationship, regardless of how new (or old) it is. One of the reasons for this is that therapists help couples understand—and practice—healthy communication. What are some healthy communication examples? Let’s go over a few basic guidelines together.
What Is Healthy Communication in a Relationship?
Ultimately, every relationship is unique, and so is each relationship’s version of healthy communication. But to get to that point, you must first establish ground rules that encourage respect, trust, and vulnerability. With that in mind, we at Well Marriage are happy to share a few good starting points.
Healthy communication in a relationship will almost always include the following:
- Know yourself, and your needs—then share them. This is arguably the most important step, because you are the only person who is an expert on, well, you! In relationships, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking your partner is a mind-reader, or that they “should just know” what you need from them. It’s never good to assume your partner fully understands your needs or knows how their actions impact your feelings. This is especially true when dating someone with a different communication style than you (which we’ll cover later in this article). Knowing your relationship needs can be quite challenging, but a therapist can really help you discover them.
- Listen to understand, rather than to respond. Listening to your partner is a sign of love and respect; it’s also an act of deep intimacy. But there is a clear difference between “hearing” what someone says and truly “listening.” Active listening involves devoting your attention not just to your partner’s words, but their tone, delivery, and other nonverbal cues. Listening also involves acknowledging your partner as they speak, withholding judgment until they’re finished talking, and asking questions to clarify what they say. Besides, if you’re already formulating your response as your partner is talking, you’re not only ignoring them, but you are acting on incomplete information. Listening can be especially challenging when you’re discussing something contentious or arguing, but that is perhaps when listening well is most important.
- Speak through a lens of how things make you feel. Our feelings are not just deeply personal and unique to us, they also give our loved ones a roadmap for how to meet our needs. When your partner upsets you in some way, it can be tempting to criticize them. But not only is criticism unhealthy for a relationship, it will not help your partner understand what you want. Always try to express things through “I” statements, rather than “you” statements; this will help you center your emotions, rather than attacking your partner. An example of this is choosing to say “I feel hurt when you don’t help me clean the kitchen,” rather than, “you never want to help clean up.”
- Validate your partner’s feelings and experiences. Truthfully, you will not always understand your partner’s emotions. And you will not always agree on how to interpret what happens in your relationship. But even in those times, it’s important to respect your partner’s feelings. Emotions cannot be “right” or “wrong”—they just are—so you must trust that your partner will speak authentically about their feelings. And likewise, they must trust you will do the same. Validating does not have to equal agreement, it can be as simple as expressing “I understand how that must make you feel.” From there, you can work on solutions or compromises.
What Communication Styles Are Needed for Healthy Relationships?
While every relationship’s specific communication patterns will vary, there is a general style that couples should aim for: assertive communication. Assertiveness is one of the four basic communication styles, which are:
- Passive | Avoids conflict, often letting their partner make all the decisions
- Aggressive | Embraces conflict, often dominating and controlling the relationship
- Passive-Aggressive | Knows what they want but has trouble voicing it, leading to resentment
- Assertive | Clearly expresses their needs and wants, while respecting others’ needs and wants
Assertive communication styles are direct but respectful. Being assertive means boldly expressing your feelings or desires and asking direct questions, while ensuring that others can do the same. But not everyone knows how to communicate assertively, and even if they do, they may still struggle with it or not know how to respond to assertive communications. Many people likely fall back onto one of the other communication styles—whether it’s from past trauma, unmet needs, or not being fully in touch with their emotions.
What Is the Hardest Communication Style To Deal With?
This is largely subjective, as each style can be hard to work with, for different reasons. Aggressive people can be domineering and stubborn, but passive people can feel inaccessible and “far away” to their partner. And passive-aggressive people tend to let things build up until they reach a boiling point. In each of these situations, an experienced therapist helps couples bridge the initial communication gap, then gives them the tools to do that on their own.
Learn Healthy Communication With Well Marriage
Communication is key, and with the right key, you and your partner can unlock the door to a better relationship. Our therapists can help you discover what “keys” will best fit your relationship and give you strategies to improve your communication daily. It can be challenging to know what to do when you struggle to communicate with your partner. Even if your relationship isn’t struggling, you may just want a way to deepen your relationship and have more intimacy. At Well Marriage, we’re passionate about giving couples the tools they need to build a happy, deep, thriving partnership—together.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can strengthen your relationship’s communication, reach out to us and schedule an appointment today!