Research has shown that strong relationships are vital to our health and happiness—but they’re not always easy to maintain. Especially in long-term relationships, problems, disagreements and arguments are bound to arise.
Much of the time, the root of these problems isn’t the disagreements or differences themselves. Rather, relational conflicts are often caused by poor communication between partners.
Luckily, changing the way you communicate is easier than changing who you are or who you’re with! Here are a few ways to fix those communication breakdowns, so you and your partner can express yourself in ways that are healthier and more loving.
Provide meaningful and detailed apologies
Say this: “I’m sorry that I ______________. I understand that it made you feel __________. In the future I will ___________.”
Not that: “I’m sorry.”
When we only say “I’m sorry,” it can feel like we’re simply trying to escape the conversation and the painful emotions that may be involved. A genuine, detailed apology shows your partner that you fully understand what you did wrong, why it hurt them, and how you will be more thoughtful about your actions in the future.
Take responsibility for decisions that affect you both
Say this: “I would like/I would prefer _______________.”
Not that: “Whatever you want.”
While saying “whatever you want” may seem kind because it allows your partner to have his/her way, in reality, this phrase is often used to avoid relational conflict. If it becomes a habit, it can lead to your partner resenting the fact that they always have to make decisions, and to you resenting the fact that you rarely get want you want.
Avoid this situation by offering an opinion when a decision must be made—but not feeling resentful if your partner doesn’t agree.
In times when you truly don’t have an opinion, or genuinely would like your spouse to choose what would make them happiest, say that whatever they choose would make you happy, but that you’d also be glad to give an opinion if they’d like.
Praise your partner’s character, not only their actions
Say this: “Thank you for cooking dinner, you’re such a thoughtful person.”
Not that: “Thanks for cooking dinner.”
Although any expression of gratitude or compliment is likely to be well-received by your partner, most people value character compliments more than any other type of praise. These kinds of compliments, which show gratitude for who your partner is deep down, can make your partner feel appreciated and valued on a more lasting and deeper level than compliments or thanks for something they’ve done.
Feeling appreciated by your partner is crucial for long-term relational health and happiness.
Although misunderstandings and accidental hurt feelings will always happen to some degree in relationships, couples who cultivate healthy communication patterns have a greater chance of avoiding these situations, working through them efficiently when they arise, and maintaining fulfilling, happy and long-lasting relationships.
-The Alternative Daily