Communication, it's always a challenge. This is true of people everywhere. There is always a question that is difficult to answer definitively: how do we communicate more effectively? Matters are made more difficult in romantic relationships, where the stakes are even higher, and emotions even louder. What is the best way to deal with the unavoidable bumps in the road, and communicate effectively?
The best way to communicate always rests on ensuring mutual understanding of what is being discussed.
Perhaps the best way to ensure this is the case is for one to ask the other person to rephrase, in their own words, what the they have just said. This helps to alleviate any miscommunication, and limits the ability for a conversation to progress, before two people understand one another. This can be a challenge: it involves being very attentive to one another – and especially if the topic is emotionally charged, demonstrating empathetic listening. This can be a difficult skill!
The next step is then how to deliver the message so that the other person sees it reasonable enough to repeat back, and doesn't feel upset, reactive, and distant, and so on. In other words, it leaves one with the task of how to speak in such a way so that one's interlocutor not only understands the message, but wants to continue to foster agreeable communication!
Empathetic communication can help in this way, and this is especially key in romantic relationships. Establishing one's needs without discounting one's lover is the key here. This does not mean speaking in such a way that one's own needs have less meaning and importance than they would have otherwise – it simply means expressing one's own needs assertively. This means without being aggressive! Assertive people explain their thoughts and feelings and conviction and clarity, without, in the process of articulating their needs, attacking the other person. There is an art to this.
Aggressive people assert their needs and imply, whether overtly or subtly, that the other person's needs are not important. In romantic relationships, where getting along is key, an aggressive stance is rarely the best approach. It increases tension and creates an environment in which agreement is no longer the goal, or is no longer attainable.
Here are two examples. Here is an assertive comment:
Honey, I feel upset that you didn't do your part and clean the dishes. I understand you were busy with work, but I would really appreciate help and it would mean a lot to me.
Here is an aggressive comment:
You didn't do the dishes. Why are you not doing your part – we agreed to this! You do not show any kindness, and your work is not any excuse to neglect my needs. Do the dishes!
These two polar-opposite approaches demonstrate the difference in communication, with the first example still retaining self-expression and transparency while building on commonality – concluding with an attempted compromise. The second one is viciously discounting the other partner. One can imagine where each of these scenarios would lead. Thus, the words one uses are key to the trajectory of a conversation and, over time, the trajectory of a relationship – or even a life!
Assertive communication versus aggressive communication is just one aspect of effective communication. This, together with repeating back to one another each other's comments, at or before times of discord, could alleviate long term consequences – and potentially, consequences that could vastly outweigh the importance of the disagreement at hand in the first place.
Lastly, benefit of the doubt is key. This means assuming your partner is not trying to do things which will cause harm intentionally. Very often, miscommunication and differing wants in a relationship are more central to a conflict than the intentionality being amiss. If you have reason to believe your partner is actually having bad intentions, it may be worth reevaluating if it is a good relationship to be in, or alternatively, using some of the strategies outlined above to aid in the alleviation of potential misunderstanding: maybe it wasn't bad intentions after all?