Learning to communicate with anyone on a personal level is a learning process for both parties. As we become more familiar with someone, we learn their triggers, how they best respond to constructive criticism and face problems. The same holds for ourselves as well. Finding that balance with being honest about our emotions but maintaining open and productive conversations about difficult subjects requires skills that we generally learn over time. Researchers reveal how to have better conversations with your partner that result in both better emotional expression and understanding of both parties.
Learning to express, not suppress emotions
In school, we learned to count to 10 to teach us to get control of our heated emotions. That was so that we didn’t unfairly attack someone. That is still a good tactic. However, it is crucial to recognize that it is to get control at the moment, not to bury how you feel. Suppressing emotions over long periods can result in overreactions, misinterpretations of others’ actions, and intensifying the first emotions, making them more prominent than they need be. Ultimately, suppression only leads to broader issues in the long run and can destroy a relationship.
It is essential to recognize and name how you feel to yourself first. Are you upset that your partner is on his phone at dinner time? Why? Does it feel disrespectful or trigger insecurity that they don’t want to connect with you? Or, do you want their undivided attention during this relatively short time?
Tips for Having Conversations with Your Partner
1 – Be in a proper mindset when you raise an issue
It is good to recognize how you feel and understand why you think what you are at the time. That doesn’t mean you need to yell at your partner to express it but communicate it to yourself internally. The acknowledgment alone will lessen the impact on your psyche, allowing you to calm down and bring it up in a positive manner.
As a part of raising the issue, experts recommend you start the sentence with what is bothering you first and end the sentence with a positive statement. For example, ” I feel upset that you are on your phone during our dinner because I was looking forward to us spending time together uninterrupted.” This practice allows your partner to quickly both know the problem and that you care about them and are not attacking them.
2 – Actively listen to your partner
It is so easy to space out during specific conversations, especially if your mind is on subjects you’d prefer to discuss. What you may fail to recognize, is that if your partner feels listened to throughout their conversation, they won’t feel the need to repeat things, use phrases to get your attention or other tactics to draw you into the conversation. They are also more likely to freely shift the conversation towards you once they finish, allowing you to share what is on your mind.
What are the ways to actively listen?
- Maintain eye contact
- Position body in front and leaning in toward the person
- Ask questions about the topic
- Repeat ideas back to confirm understanding
- Don’t fiddle with things
- Focus on what they are saying verbally and physically.
- Don’t focus on what you are thinking to reply. This is their point, not yours. Let them speak.
3 – Seek greater understanding
It is only natural that you want to feel heard and understood. Frequently, we only focus on ourselves and fail to recognize the emotions of the other party. Learning to steer a conversation toward how your partner is feeling and being open-minded may aid you in knowing how to express yourself in a manner that your partner will understand and your partner will be more willing to hear you after having expressed themselves.
4 – Own your feelings and mistakes
When discussing your feelings, remember they are your feelings. Express them in terms of “I” rather than “You.” Stating a problem by saying, ” You did x,y,z …” is like pointing a finger in their face and blaming. While they may be responsible for their actions, you are responsible for your emotions and reactions. Express yourself, stating “I feel…”
It is also essential to recognize that while you can say how you felt, that doesn’t mean you are in the right. Learning to apologize for misunderstandings and poorly expressed feelings is how you take responsibility for yourself and demonstrate respect for your partner.
5 – Never forget to bring in closeness and trust
You easily might get distracted by events of a day and not communicate the simple things to your partner. Yet, it is the little things that build closeness and trust. Some of these things are:
- Share something that happened in your day
- Show appreciation for something your partner did
- Ask for their advice or opinion
- Make physical contact during conversations
6 – Don’t always be so serious
Humor is a great way to break the tension. While there is a time and a place for certain jokes, keeping certain things light or bringing up a shared story can release stress and make an awkward conversation easier to discuss.
7 – Be clear about the purpose of the conversation
It is vital that a discussion, especially of a serious note, is focused. Make sure that you know what your purpose is for raising certain subjects and what the goal is for your partner. It is easy for a conversation to go in circles, and nothing becomes resolved when neither party is clear what is being discussed or what resolution is desired. You each may have separate goals, and it is crucial to address each one individually.
Integration of emotional regulation for better conversations
A study was performed in Israel by Bat-Hen Shahar and associates at the Ben-Gurion University. They took 140 participants, ages 22 or less, who had been in a romantic relationship for six months to three years. Their goal was to test out a theory of the Integration of Emotional Regulation.
IER is based on the idea that if you recognize what your emotions are and attach them to your sense of self, you can improve your ability to cope with challenging situations. It is believed that an emotionally balanced person can sit with both their negative and positive emotions, express them appropriately, and develop a more profound sense of self-acceptance, development, and personal intimacy.
In the study, they divided up the couples. One of the partners received emotional direction, and the other had no instructions at all. The partner given directions used one of three emotional methods in which to respond during the conversation. All of the subjects were hooked up to skin conductance monitors to read the stress levels.
The three different emotional directions were:
- For the participant to be fully aware of their emotions and how they correlated with their goals during the 10-minute conversation. This represented the IER method.
- Attempt to remove your emotions and be as rational and objective as possible
- Act as stoic as possible, so your partner is unable to read your emotions
The researchers verified that participants in the IER method demonstrated less stress, which declined as they continued conversing. The other groups felt they got far less out of the conversation, and the stress levels were higher.
Final Thoughts on Having Meaningful Conversations With Your Partner
Communication is difficult in any relationship, whether it is parent/child or spouses/partners. It is a science that is relatively new, and scientists are still discovering different methods which are quite contrary to how many of us have been taught.
It is more common now to express your feelings. However, previous generations viewed emotions as a weakness. Moreover, they learned to bury them and get on with the day. Often, this led to explosive arguments and major misunderstandings and, eventually, failed relationships.
Researchers now better understand different methods to have a better conversation with your partner. This time, the teachings are based on knowing and acknowledging your emotions. Thus, you can become better attuned to who you are and what you need. This goes for both parties. There is also a heavier emphasis on listening to each others’ needs, goals, and feelings without needing to be defensive. We have come a long way from our grandparents or great-grandparent’s day of remaining stoic or burying emotions. It is an excellent step toward furthering ourselves and our relationships.