What Is Healthy Communication In A Relationship?
Relationships can be difficult. They can also be very rewarding. Communication is the foundation of any relationship, whether it is a relationship with a significant other, parent, child, friend, family member, or coworker. Ultimately, every important relationship has had conflict, whether explicit or not. How can you determine if you have healthy communication in your relationship?
Healthy communication exists when both individuals in a relationship feel that they can openly communicate their needs. This can occur through both verbal and nonverbal behavior. Communication between humans is very complex. Recent technology (e.g., text messaging and email) makes it nearly impossible for us to communicate information through nonverbal cues. This is why information communicated via text message and email can often be misinterpreted.
That leads me to one of the most important facets of healthy communication…
Make Sure You Are Communicating Your Message Clearly
How many times have you watched a romantic comedy in which the major conflict in the movie between the two stars is a result of miscommunication? The reason this theme is so overused is because it is reflective of reality. Clearly communicating your needs and desires is so crucial to any healthy relationship. Other people cannot read your mind. Therefore, you need to give them the clearest representation of what is going on in your head so that they can best understand you.
Many conflicts can be avoided by following this one simple rule. Misinterpretation can occur from both not communicating your needs at all, or from communicating them inefficiently or inaccurately.
How can you fix this?
First you need to know how you truly feel. How does the other person in the relationship make you feel, and how does this impact your relationship? It is worth it to reflect these things to yourself whether by thinking it through, journaling, or sounding off your thoughts to a third-party (a friend, therapist, or family member).
Secondly, you can express your needs in what is called an “I statement”. I statements are a way of expressing how an interaction affects you personally. For example, “I feel hurt when you go so long without calling me. I am afraid that you don’t care.” Check out this helpful worksheet to help you formulate I statements.
These types of statements are helpful because it is a way of communicating your needs. They help initiate empathy and understanding, as opposed to defensiveness and arguments. It is hard for another person to disagree with how you feel.
Ultimately, make an effort not to place the blame on others, but to really communicate how you feel and what is important for you in this particular relationship. Maybe it is important for you to have the other person to listen to you, to show you compassion and understanding, to help you when needed, or to communicate their needs to you.
Demonstrate Healthy Communication Through Listening
There are two sides to every conversation, the person who is talking and the person who is listening. It is not a conversation if this dynamic does not exist. Therefore, it is just as important of a role to listen to others as it is to communicate your needs. It is important for the other person in the dynamic to feel as though they can communicate their thoughts and feelings without feeling judged and/or criticized.
You may think it is easy to listen, or that you are a good listener. Maybe you are. But you also must be aware of all of the thoughts you are having while you are listening. What am I going to say next? I wonder what I’m going to have for lunch… She has a piece of food between her teeth. This is boring. So many thoughts are happening while you are supposed to be devoting all of your attention to this other person.
So how do you truly listen? By making every effort to devote your attention in that moment to the person communicating. It is okay and normal to have these other thoughts while listening. The most important thing is that you are demonstrating that you are listening by making eye contact and paying attention fully with an open mind (not being distracted by your phone or anything else).
Other people will feel more respected and valued when you give them your full attention and truly listen.
When Do Things Become Unhealthy?
It is normal to have conflict in a relationship. The second there is more than one person there will be some level of disagreement. The most important thing is how this disagreement is handled between the two parties. If any conflict involves verbal or physical abuse, then it is not healthy. If this is the case or you ever feel unsafe in a relationship, please contact the police or your local/national domestic violence hotline.
Check out this comprehensive guide for more information about domestic abuse, sexual violence, and the link to substance use. If you are struggling with any of these issues, you are not alone, please seek out help!
The single most important thing in a relationship is whether you feel safe, supported, and listened to. Don’t forget to practice self-care to ensure you are bringing your best self to your relationship. The most important relationship you have is with yourself. If you do not prioritize yourself, then the people you surround yourself with won’t either!
Please let me know in the comments below if you have any other tips for communication in relationships.