When our relationships aren’t fulfilling, they have the potential to make us frustrated and unhappy. Usually, people attribute these issues to a lack of communication between partners. Many people believe that depending on when you say it, a single sentence can have a major impact on your relationship.
Such notions reinforce that communication can make or break a relationship, but that’s not the case. Why? In this article, let’s look at why communication isn’t as effective as we think it is and how developing an understanding will change your experience of a relationship.
If It’s Not Communication, What Is It?
Whenever couples go through issues in their relationship, it’s common for them to have their theories on the issue. I’ve noticed that many couples who speak to me have this preconceived notion that communication is key to a happier relationship. As a result, they believe that simply communicating more will solve things. However, I disagree. Here’s why:
Let’s say you only communicate your struggles and problems or blame and criticise the other person. So, if both of you will meet your parents for lunch and you say that you don’t like what they’re wearing. Then when you get home, you blame them for the leaky faucets because they didn’t call the plumber. And at night, you go on and on about how your supervisor is giving you a hard time at work.
All of this is still communication, but do you think that this can help improve your relationship?
By now, you should understand that being better at communicating won’t improve your relationship the way you think it will.
So, if it’s not communication, what is it? It’s understanding. Understanding yourself, the other person, and how relationships work is imperative if you want to communicate anything.
Once you realise this, you’ll know it’s not about communication. Rather, understanding affects how we communicate with our partners and influences how we respond to what they say.
Understanding the Power of Words in Relationships
Words have different meanings to different people because our experience is subjective and is only comprehensible to us. As a result, the impact of words is based on your understanding of them and your perception of the words rather than the words themselves. And always remember that your perception of words will differ from that of others.
A simple example could be when your partner tells you to ‘keep the noise down’ while you’re listening to music or watching TV. To you, it may feel like they don’t appreciate your interests, but it’s possible they just wanted to relax for a bit with some peace and quiet for a while.
How Words Can Hurt or Heal
I often see advice aimed at couples about how their words can ‘hurt or heal’ the other person. However, I disagree with the notion that words alone can impact you. I don’t think specific words coming from your partner will necessarily affect you, either.
What does affect you, in fact, is your perception of words. So, it’s not the words that hurt you but what you think they mean. By this argument, you feel hurt because of what you think your partner said rather than what they may have meant.
It’s why I emphasise the meanings you attach to words and how you connect with yourself. These factors will affect how much certain words will hurt as opposed to the intention that’s made when delivering those words.
Because words can’t hurt us, knowing how certain words affect us gives us control over our responses. It allows us to respond in a way that will de-escalate the issue instead of causing a full-blown argument.
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Emotional Bank Accounts, Deposits, and Withdrawals
The emotional bank account is a concept that some people use to track how they communicate with their partners and others around them. It works like this: any positive interaction with your partner is a deposit in your emotional bank account, while negative interactions are withdrawals.
So, that means positive affirmations like ‘I’m proud of you,’ or ‘I’m glad you’re here’ can have a better effect on your relationship. Meanwhile, saying things like ‘What have you ever done for me?’ or ‘You should try being more like him/her,’ can withdraw from your emotional bank account, making you feel frustrated and on edge.
While it seems simple enough, it overcomplicates the process of trying to understand yourself and your partner. When you pick and choose specific words that can and can’t be said, you lose sight of the goal of acknowledging how your partner feels.
Instead of micromanaging every word you speak, try expressing yourself genuinely and sincerely. Doing so can bring about a deeper connection with the other person. On the other hand, constantly blaming and criticising means that you’re pointing the finger at someone else. This can never bring harmony to your relationship and will always lead to further disconnection.
Choosing Your Words Carefully in a Relationship
Too often, I’ve noticed that advice regarding relationship problems requires partners to ‘choose their words carefully.’ While I agree that hurtful words can damage the relationship, it’s not for the reason you think. When your partner says hurtful words, it’s not because they intended to hurt you. As I mentioned, you feel hurt because of how you interpreted their actions and words.
Couples in strained relationships have asked me if they should choose their words before speaking to each other. But what’s the point of intimacy and closeness if you choose each word and how it may be perceived? If you’re still picking which words to use with your partner, I’d say this: you haven’t understood how relationships work yet.
How Others’ Words Help You Understand Them
In a relationship, your ability to say or not say something at a certain time depends on your understanding. Specifically, your understanding of how a relationship works. Hurtful words from someone else can be a gateway to understanding what’s going on inside.
You don’t need to take their words too seriously but rather try to learn about the feelings behind them. That’s because the other person saying hurtful things is simply struggling with something on the inside. They’re experiencing internal discomfort or dissonance, and their words or actions are a manifestation of it.
The Importance of Timing
When experts talk about communication from a relationship point of view, there’s a common element of ‘timing.’ That means timing when you’ll say certain things and when you won’t. Again, I feel that it’s too complicated and too analytical of an approach.
The entire difference between our intimate and formal relationships is that the former doesn’t (or at least, it shouldn’t) require us to be highly rational and logical all the time. If you spend half the time determining the right time to say something, you won’t be present in the here and now.
Being Present With Your Partner
This brings me to what does matter: being present. In a relationship, it’s always good to understand whether the other person is present and can listen. Are they in a good mental space to register and comprehend what you’ll say? Or are they dealing with something that only requires you to listen?
Saying The Right Thing at the Wrong Time
Quite often, people are simply too busy struggling with their own minds. But even if you say something with the best of intentions, you may not have noted whether the other person is emotionally available to listen. As a result, they’ll still react negatively to what you say. So, remember that it has less to do with what you say but more to do with where they’re at.
In times like these, it’s best that you simply listen to what they have to say and give them your full attention. In an intimate relationship, the love you have for someone can be experienced by the other person, but only if you reflect on it.
If your partner is struggling with something or experiencing a difficult situation, they don’t necessarily need your advice. It’s likely that they just want you to be there. As for the problem, dilemma, or situation they’re having trouble with, just know that we already have the answers inside ourselves.
Whatever your partner is going through is their own subjective experience, so even if you provide a solution, it may not align with their perception. Deep down, they may already know what to do; they just need some support and a warm presence to realise it.
What to Say to Save a Relationship
‘I’m listening’ is one of the most impactful things you can say to your partner. Listening is one of the most important things to do in a relationship, but it requires you to listen without judgment, criticism, or even advice.
Too often, we think that listening requires us to elicit a response of some sort, but it doesn’t. We may think that someone who talks to us about their problems is looking for a solution, but in most cases, they already know what the solution is.
They only need someone to listen. The same applies to your partner. We all want to be known; we want to feel seen – especially by the ones we love. When you acknowledge this need, it’s more effective at communicating your affection and love for your partner than a few simple words.
Apologising and Taking Responsibility for Your Actions
When your significant other is hurting, it’s crucial that you acknowledge it. This also applies when you’re the one who hurt them. Although I’ve mentioned that it’s our perception of words that hurt our feelings, they still hurt us, nonetheless.
Understanding yourself and your partner is a lifelong process. Therefore, it’s unreasonable to expect that the other person will know the difference between your intention and their perception when you say something. You need to give them some time to build that understanding, but until then, you should acknowledge when you say something hurtful.
By apologising, you make it clear that the way they think and feel is important to you. In tense situations, it can also help you communicate that you’re not looking to start a fight and that you acknowledge your responsibility. With an apology, you can also come to an agreement about how each party was hurtful to the other.
Sentences That Can Strengthen Your Relationship
As humans, we want to be loved by others, and we want to feel seen by those we hold dear. You and your partner both have this need to be acknowledged. To fulfil this need for your partner and reflect the love you feel, you need to be present.
Understand Yourself to Say What Matters
Some relationship experts may recommend that you and your partner say certain phrases or affirmations to each other. However, being supportive and appreciative of one another should never require a calculated effort. It should come naturally.
When you come to understand your inner self, you’ll be more open to experiencing love for another person. This is a core aspect of feeling unconditional love, and it will encourage you to say things that encourage, motivate and uplift your significant other.
It’s not about words but rather the feelings that are behind that specific intention. It will show how you really want to listen to them and that you’re present for them emotionally.
To sum it up, communication without understanding is useless in an intimate relationship. Before attempting to understand another, look inward. That’s because all your relationships are a reflection of how you view and feel about yourself. The other people around act as a mirror that reflects the emotional wounds that you’re still recovering from.