When is the last time you talked to your family? Not just a chat but a meaningful conversation? The fact is that communication in relationships is often more difficult than it seems. Every day we talk to people all day long. We are always chatting with our husbands, wives, children, and friends. But in many of these cases, we aren’t communicating as profoundly as we should, especially with those that we love the most.
To understand how to improve communication in relationships, we have to understand what each person is trying to say and offer responses that show that we care. Depending on what family member we are speaking to, we want to alter our communication just enough so that we can show full appreciation for what each other is genuinely trying to say.
What is Good Communication?
Legitimate communication is not only about talking but also making a concentrated effort to listen to what the other person is saying. That is even more important when we talk about communication in relationships.
The most significant factors that go into good communication include active listening, the nonverbal cues, and mannerisms you display, and the respect you give while speaking and listening. Effective communication also involves being aware of the emotions that the other person is feeling and expressing while they talk.
Finally, communication in relationships is about the two E’s: empathy and encouragement. Emphasizing is the act of trying to see things from other people’s point of view and using that information to respond properly. Even if someone is coming from a point of view you are not familiar with or that you do not agree with, good communication involves encouraging the other to say what is on their mind.
These are the core elements of proper communication in relationships. These elements should be tweaked depending on with who you are speaking. So you would approach a conversation with your spouse somewhat differently than you would a conversation with your spouse.
Negative Habits That Hurt Communication in Relationships
One of the first steps to achieving effective communication in relationships is knowing what not to do when speaking with those we love. While we want to communicate differently depending on who we are talking to, there are certain negative habits that we want to avoid in all situations.
In many cases, some of these negative traits could be so detrimental that they could shut down any future communication. What most of these negative habits revolve around is giving the unintentional signal that you are not interested in what the other person has to say.
Not Controlling Emotions
Proper communication in relationships means composing yourself properly during both regular daily talks and more severe discussions. In other words, we never want to lose our temper, regardless of how easy it can be to do so.
If you and a family member disagree about something, you still want to employ active listening and respond in an even tone. You never want to resort to yelling at a family member. Some people think that shouting helps to get a more explicit message across, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When you raise your voice, you create a hostile environment, and people tend to shut down in such situations. Often, yelling can result in hurtful words which could have permanent repercussions and the last thing you want to do is hurt your loved ones in any way.
These days, the ability to have one-on-one communication in relationships is proving more difficult. With smartphones, tablets, television, and email, it is easier than ever to become distracted when someone is trying to speak to us. Save the text messages and apps for when you are alone and treasure the time you have with family.
You also want to avoid having most of your conversations occur via text message or email as those methods are impersonal and messages can often become misinterpreted. Face to face communication with your family is the best way to understand one another fully. It will also lead to a better all-around relationship.
Interrupting someone while they are talking sends a clear, though possibly unintentional, message to the speaker that what they are saying is not important. In many cases, if a person gets interrupted enough, they may perceive that they are not being listened to and can clam up entirely.
In most cases, interrupting others is just a negative quirk that we don’t do intentionally. There are several tricks that you can try to quell your interruption habit. The easiest method will also help your overall communication skills, and that is to take your conversation one comment a time.
Many people interrupt because, instead of listening, they are continually thinking about the next thing they want to say while the other person is still talking. Make a habit of pausing after each statement to formulate a proper response. If you are having trouble pausing between responses, then employ the 10-second rule. After your spouse or child speaks, wait 10 seconds before responding. If you make a concentrated effort, you will find yourself interrupting much less often, and your communication in relationships will improve.
Being a Fixer
If you find that you have trouble with communication in relationships, it may because you are too much of a fixer. Some people believe that when a loved one comes to them with a problem, that they are searching for a solution. While they may be looking for a bit of closure, often, many people are just looking for a sympathetic ear.
It all comes back to taking the speaker’s point of view. When a spouse speaks to us about lack of success losing weight or a child complains of problems at school, the first step should be to look at the issue from their perspective and show some empathy.
Even if you think you have a viable solution, take the time to listen and validate their emotions. If you still want to offer your solution, wait until the person is on more solid ground and then ask them if they want to hear your recommendation for their issue.
Tips for Effectively Communicating with Your Spouse
When it comes to proper communications in relationships, especially in families, one of the most important factors is how you speak to your significant other. Whether you are in a traditional or blended family, how you and your spouse interact can influence how the children interact -- now and in the future. Set a good example with these communication tips.
Make communication in relationships a priority
After being married for some time, some couples may feel that communication becomes less critical. Some couples might even say that they don’t have to speak because they “just understand each other.”
Even if you think that you and your spouse have this mutual understanding, it is still important that you talk on a daily basis. There is always room to improve when it comes to communication in relationships. Set aside 15 minutes every day after work to go into the living room and have a meaningful conversation about each other’s day. Even if it feels strange at first, you will soon look forward to these special talks.
Learn to listen
Once again it all comes down to listening. Whether it is talking about their day or a more serious issue, take the time to absorb what your spouse is telling you. Active listening can be more difficult when you feel like you are under attack, but being defensive will only stall meaningful communication in relationships.
Avoid escalating this defensiveness by using less “you” statements and more “I” statements. So avoid saying, “You don’t appreciate how much I do around here.” Instead, change it to, “I feel like you don’t appreciate how much I do around here.” Using “you” makes it seem like you are pointing fingers and a defense response is natural. Saying “I” shows that you feel a certain way. If your spouse is employing active listening, then their response could be a potential solution.
Be open to communication
You and your spouse are not going to agree on everything. Disagreements in marriages are entirely normal. However, if you show that you aren’t interested in what your spouse has to say, not only will there be a communication breakdown but feelings can also be hurt.
When you aren't fully committed to having an honest conversation, the cues will be clear -- even if you don’t say so outright. Non-verbal cues can be just as hurtful. Avoid eye-rolling, crossed arms, and staring at your phone.
When it comes to communication in relationships, follow the golden rule. If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Criticizing and insulting your spouse can have long-lasting effects. Doing so also shows that you are not interested in effective communication.
Tips for Effectively Communicating with Your Children
Adequate communication in relationships also applies to your kids. When you are speaking to your children, you will still employ active listening and show respect. However, since your children will usually talk about different things than your spouse, you can use slightly different tactics.
Give them your full attention
People tend to take less stock in what children say. Even parents can have a habit of merely humoring children instead of listening to them. However, kids have a lot of important things to say, from what they did at school to potential problems at school. The first step to effective communication with your children is giving them your full attention. Listen with your entire body. Stop what you are doing and face them and look them in the eyes. Kneel down if necessary. Finally, tell them that you are ready to listen.
Acknowledge their feelings
Just like we tend to think that kids have less critical things to say, we also tend to see their problems as minor. However, the way you communicate with children when they are young can dictate your relationship with them as they grow. Actively listen to their issues and acknowledge their feelings. Then you can look for a potential solution.
Once you can emphasize with their feelings and permit them to show those emotions, the children will learn to sense these same feelings in others. As a result, the kids will learn to improve communication in relationships in the future.
Communicate to teach
If a child does something wrong, many parents can tend to react by shaming instead of instructing. If for example, your child spills their milk at the dinner table, instead of yelling at them to be smarter, provide an alternate solution.
Some parents might think that shaming is the best way to stop what they see as an easily avoidable scenario. Instead, you can say something like, “I know it was a mistake. Next time, ask others to pass the milk to you instead, okay?” This method not only shows kids that it okay to make mistakes. It also helps them to think critically about solutions for other problems they may face.
Tips for Effectively Communicating with Stepchildren
Though blended families are a wonderful thing, stepchildren that are new to your home will always need time for adjustment. The best way to welcome stepchildren into the fold is to start a good foundation through proper communication.
Treat them as you would your children
Never treat stepchildren as strangers. Instead, communication in relationships with children in blended families should mirror those in traditional families. Treat your stepchildren the same as you do your own children. Give them your full attention when they talk to you. Empathize when they are feeling sad.
Communicate with expectations
While setting up the groundwork for communication in relationships with your stepkids, be sure to communicate your expectations. Communication in relationships stems from a sense of respect, so treat all of the kids in your household the same.
Show your new stepchildren how people in the family treat one another. Mention that you expect the same from them. Once you set the expectations, take some time every day to ask how they are doing and how they are feeling with the standards you have set.
Don’t force communication
When it comes to enforcing communication in relationships with stepchildren, it is essential to let them set the pace. When many kids move into a new home, they can have a lot going on in their heads. They are still trying to figure out their new surroundings, they are unsure of how to act, or they just might not be too talkative.
Judge the child’s behavior before attempting to bring communication up to the next level. If your stepchild is unusually quiet, forcing them to talk as much as your other kids could have an opposite effect. If they think they are being forced to do something they’re uncomfortable with then they may become even more reserved.
Treat them with the same respect as your own kids. Be there for them when they need you, and eventually, that cyclical communication in relationships will become a reality.
Get Everyone Involved in Family Meetings
If you have a large family or it is difficult to find time to speak to all of your loved ones, a viable solution is a family meeting. These daily or weekly events can improve communication in relationships tenfold because they give everyone in the family a chance to share their thoughts and feelings.
Encourage everyone to attend
When you are planning your first family meetings, the logistics are everything. Remember that these meetings are vital to improving communication in relationships. Find a time when everyone in the family can attend. The last thing you would ever want is to leave someone out of a family meeting. Doing so could send a message to that member that their voice is not appreciated. Proper communication in relationships means including every voice.
When you set up the family meeting, find a warm and friendly venue. Choose the living room or the backyard and encourage everyone to attend, even the older teens. There doesn’t have to be a formal reason to have a family meeting. Instead, advertise it as a time to voice concerns, tell funny stories from school, or talk about upcoming events.
Give everyone in the family a chance to lead
As a parent, it is essential that you do not take control of every meeting. Instead, set up a rotation for speakers and let everyone have his or her voice heard. The week before the meeting, you can have everyone write down subjects that they would like to discuss. No idea should be off limits.
Solve one issue at a time
Family meetings are a chance to solve problems. It is an open forum where adults and kids can voice each of their concerns. Once heard, the family can attempt to find solutions. Remember that no matter is of less value than another. Never listen to a concern and then table it for the next meeting. Doing so will rob the family member of closure and leave them with a feeling that their attempts to communicate are fruitless.
How to Communicate During Tough Conversations
Even the most amicable of families will face a few tough situations here and there. Whether you need to talk to a child about bad grades in school or speak with your spouse about financial problems, these conversations need to handled with a certain level of grace.
Don’t over prepare
You never want to go into a conversation regarding a difficult situation with a script of grievances and an uncompromising attitude. Instead, use your “I” statements to explain your frustrations, actively listen to your partner’s responses, and see where the conversation goes.
While you do not want to plan everything you want to say, you do want to have a goal in mind. What is the purpose of this conversation? Are you looking for a final resolution or are you just trying to understand your partner’s frame of mind? Have the goal planned out but use give-and-take to get you there. Communication in relationships is never a one-way street.
Also, remember that it is okay to be wrong. You may go into a tough conversation thinking that you have been wronged. However, it may not always end up that way. New information could come out during the talk that you were not aware of, and instead of you getting an apology, it might be the other way around. This type of situation is why it's a good idea to wait for a beat before confronting a loved one. Taking a moment to reflect may make you realize something you forgot during your initial angry reaction.
It is all about timing
As with most communication in relationships, proper timing is the key. If you have just become upset about something, you don’t want to rush to the person and go into the conversation angry. You don’t want to say things that you will regret.
Once you have had time to cool off, tell your loved one your issue, but don’t expect to have the full conversation yet if the other party isn’t ready. You can even decide on a later time to have the conversation. For instance, you wouldn’t want to have the conversation the morning before a big day at work or in a public place, especially if discussing a sensitive topic.
Flawless Communication Will Not Happen Overnight
The most important thing to remember when trying to improve communication in relationships is that there is always room to grow. A family is full of different personalities, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to communicating with everyone in the household.
Remind yourself that communication in relationships is a two-way street. It is not only about what you say but how you listen. Try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Empathize with them. Enter every conversation with an open mind. Work on your communication skills over time. In the end, a family who works to communicate properly is a happy family that can get through anything.
To explore more about improving your communication, you might wish to get a copy of the Kindle edition of Communication in Relationships: The Ultimate Guide to Couple Communication.