Sometimes we get so caught up in our minds about what is "wrong" in a relationship that we forget to communicate with the other person. Communication is the key to a happy, healthy relationship. This is true for all relationships: your significant other, boss, best friend, family, literally any human relationship. Good communication is the key to feeling safe and content. As a long-time therapist, I have noticed a few problem areas!
What causes trouble
Making up stories in our head
We think things like, "I didn't get the promotion because my boss hates me." or "She doesn't like me. She never says "Hi" when I run into her." or "I wasn't invited because I am not fun to be around."
We often tell ourselves stories in our head about what the other person is thinking and feeling. Our minds are good at "filling in information" when there is an unknown. This can cause all kinds of problems. There are many other perfectly good explanations for these things. But our mind tends to pick a story and stick with it. We all have a set of lenses that we see the world through. If your lenses filter everything through a belief like "I am not good enough", then the stories in your head will all start to sound the same! The only way to find out the truth is to ask.
Example: "I felt disappointed that I didn't get the promotion. Would it be possible to get some feedback on why you made that decision and what I can do to improve my job performance?"
1. Assuming people know how to treat you
We think things like, "If he really loved me, he would help out more around the house." OR "She hardly spends time with me. She always chooses her friends over me. She will probably dump me. Maybe I should dump her first!" or "He didn't pay for dinner. He must be a cheapskate. I am not going out with him again!"
I believe that we need to teach people how to treat us! We all have different love languages, we all grow up in different families with different expectations around emotions and communication, and we all have different needs. Therefore, it is our responsibility to tell people in our lives how to treat us, communicate with us, and what our needs are. It also allows the other person to have an opportunity to meet your needs!
Example: "I have noticed that you spend a lot of time on the weekends with your friends, and we have not had much alone time. I feel disappointed that we can't spend more time together. I think 'quality time' must be one of my love languages! Can we spend at least one weekend day together from now on?"
2. Not being direct
Sometimes we think we are saying something clearly, but the other person hears something completely different. We may think we are asking for help, but the other person just heard complaining! Being direct resolves this issue. Let me give some examples.
We say things like, "I am so sick of doing the dishes." A more direct way is, "Will you do the dishes tonight?"
We say things like, "I wish we could go on a vacation." A more direct way is, "I looked into taking a vacation in June. Want to go June 17-21st? It will cost $800."
We say things like, "You are always late." A more direct way is, "When you are late, I feel like you do not value my time. Can you please be on time next time? It is really important to me."
3. Trying to avoid conflict
No one likes conflict. It makes sense that we would try to avoid it. Many of us learned to avoid conflict growing up in a household with many conflicts, with an addict/alcoholic or someone with mental illness, or in a home where emotions were not well tolerated. We may operate under the assumption that bringing up a problem will cause a bigger problem. I invite you to challenge that assumption. With the right communication skills, talking about it resolves the issue and leaves you feeling empowered. Another downside of this avoidance is resentment. If you constantly feel like your needs are not being met, AND you do not ever acknowledge it - it is a recipe for disaster and spells DOOM for a relationship.
To stop avoiding conflict, I recommend using "I feel" statements. "I feel statements" diffuse defensiveness and give clear directives for how to do things differently. Make the statement and move on. No fighting or bickering!
"I feel (emotion word)__ when you __(problem behavior)__. I wish you would _______(what you want)___ from now on.
Start with something small and see how it feels:
"I feel frustrated when you leave your shoes in the middle of the floor. Please set them by the front door from now on."
4. Not being in touch with your body
It may sound strange that not being in touch with your body can cause communication issues, but it is essential. Emotions and feelings live in our bodies. They are there to give us information. When we listen to our feelings, acknowledge them, and honor them, we can resolve the issues in our relationships. The more comfortable you become with emotions and feelings, the better you will become at communication. You will also learn that you can tolerate the small discomfort around "communicating", and it is well worth it to resolve the bigger issue!