Communication is Key!
“Communication is key” is a phrase spoken daily to serve as advice when grounding healthy relationships. While whoever said it first is correct, what good is a key if you can’t figure out what door to open with it? That is to say, how do you recognize and implement that piece of advice? The simple phrase downplays the difficulty of how to communicate, how to start that conversation, and how to build trust.
Building a healthy relationship takes devotion and trust, but also a flexibility to make mistakes in your communication. If you are finding yourself unhappy with the discussions you have with your partner or are not sure how to build up a strong connection, there are two cornerstones of communication you can fall back on.
First, and a critical aspect of all relationships—romantic or otherwise—is setting up boundaries. Everybody has their own boundaries, just like their own needs. These can evolve through time, but it is always important to have conversations about boundaries and set them up together. For example, if you feel comfortable seeing your partner three times a week, but they want to have dinner together every night, it is clear that you need to talk through your differences. Whether that means compromising, or explaining why a boundary exists, this sets a precedent of trust and responsibility within your relationship.
The second cornerstone of communication in relationships is recognizing the impact of setting aside designated times to talk. This habit can create a judgement-free space, and a forum for open conversation. This is really important for a few reasons. Primarily, it shows you both are committed to making the relationship work. Time commitments can be a critical show of love, and for you both to set aside an hour (maybe every week) to just chat can make a huge difference. Secondly, it can eliminate the famous “mind reading” tactic in relationships. Mind reading can seem innocent, but unless you are superhero Professor X (mind reader and founder of X-men), your skills might be less than exact. Creating an open time for discussion can build trust, and decrease the amount of time spent withholding information, or not feeling safe enough to share feelings.
That being said, choosing the right timing to talk to your partner can be very difficult. Instead of springing a really difficult conversation on them, try giving them a heads up, or scheduling a time to talk (either with your weekly chats, or separately). For example, if your partner has a test next week, and you want to talk during the coming weekend, give them a heads up so they can plan their studying, and you both can take some time to organize your thoughts.
Processing your feelings, and organizing your thoughts, before having a talk with your partner is a great way to make the conversation less impassioned. If there is an issue that is clearly upsetting you or your partner, emotion can very easily take over. So, before a difficult conversation, be sure to take time to understand your own feelings. This can mean going for a walk, taking a bath, or even practicing what you want to say in the mirror. Personally, my mirror and I have had some very extensive conversations over the years and shared many tears. But, come time for the real conversation, my mind is much clearer, and I can explain easily what is upsetting me.
During you and your partner’s planned and thought out conversations, there are a few great tips to ensure healthy and stable communication. For example, be aware of starting with “I” statements. It is very common to point the finger or blame your partner for something. While that may, in fact, be how you are feeling, it is best to begin conversations with your feelings. Try saying “I feel really insecure right now. I think it might be because of _____” instead of “You make me feel really insecure.” This can ensure your partner doesn’t get defensive, feel attacked, or embarrassed. Trying to ask open-ended questions has the same effect and can also contribute to an open forum environment (i.e., asking “how was your day?” instead of “did you have a good day?”).
All in all, you should take these suggestions with a grain of salt. While they can work for some, everybody’s relationship is different. So, test some of these keys, and if none of them fit, sometimes it's best to just make your own.
Emma Dower is a rising senior at Sidwell Friends School. Emma hopes to study English and Gender Studies in college and pursue a career in social justice or communications.