Communicating Effectively About Relationships/Intimacy
It’s easy to say that good communication is essential to healthy relationships. It's harder to know what that means, or what it looks/sounds like. Below are some pointers about how to engage in good, effective communication (in all your relationships).
If you need to communicate something to your partner, and are at a loss about how to get started, here are some things you might say:
Taking care of yourself
- I’d like to take our relationship slowly; it takes me a while to develop trust.
- I don’t feel comfortable taking the pill; let’s talk about other methods of birth control.
Negotiating to get your needs met
- Let’s try to spend more time together on weekends.
- Would you feel comfortable giving me a backrub?
- Helping people understand the consequences of their behaviors
- I am feeling a little pressured to have sex with you, and it’s making me feel like I don’t even want to be alone with you.
- If you refuse to use a condom, I will not have sex with you.
- I feel like you are invading my privacy with all these questions about my past relationships.
- I’ll go to dinner with you, but I would like to drive myself and meet you there at ____ time.
- I need some time to think about the commitment that I am ready to make.
- As much as I would like to please you, I just don’t enjoy__________.
Denying a request
- No, I can’t do that for you.
- No, that really will not work for me.
- I don’t feel comfortable with that.
Denying unreasonable demands
- I will not be involved in a relationship where I am doing all the work.
- I enjoy being with you, but I cannot spend every night of the week at your place.
- Responding to pressure or manipulation
- Do not pressure me into something I don’t want to do.
- I will not be held responsible for your feelings (or needs).
- I feel like you are putting me down because I don’t agree with your opinion.
- Trying to make me feel guilty about spending more time with you will not work.
Protecting yourself from abusive or inappropriate behavior
- Do not call me names.
- Please step back; you are invading my personal space.
- I will not let myself be treated this way.
- I’ll hang up if you continue to raise your voice/yell.
- Pushing or hitting is inexcusable
Disagreements in a relationship are not only normal but, if constructively resolved, actually strengthen the relationship. It is inevitable and normal that there will be times of sadness, tension, or outright anger between you and your partner. The source of these problems may lie in unrealistic, unreasonable emotional demands, unexplored expectations, or unresolved issues or behaviors in one partner or in the relationship. Key to resolving conflicts in healthy relationships are self-honesty, a willingness to consider your partner’s perspective even if you don’t fully understand it, and communication, communication, communication!
Pointers for Having an Honest Conversation:
Discuss One Thing at a Time: Starting out by talking about one concern and then bringing up another when the first discussion is unfinished can also lead to problems. Do your best to keep the focus on resolving one concern at a time, even if it is tempting to “list” other concerns or grievances.
Really Listen: A "good Listener" is an "Active" Listener - By “active,” we mean that you (a) don’t interrupt, (b) focus on what your partner is saying rather than on formulating your own rebuttal or response, and (c) check out what you heard your partner say. You might start this process with: “I think you are saying . . . .” Or “what I understood you to say was. . . .” This step alone can sometimes short circuit a fight based on a misunderstanding.
Restrain Yourself: Couples who “edit” themselves – are intentional about what they do or do not say, and do not say all the angry things they may be thinking - are typically the happiest. “Softening” the beginning of a fight is important. In situations where one partner makes a critical or contemptuous comment “right off the bat,” conflict escalates quickly.
Adopt a “Win-Win” Position: A “win-win” stance means that your goal is for the relationship rather than either partner to “win” in a conflict situation. This may mean asking yourself: “Is what I am about to say (or do) going to increase or decrease the odds that we’ll work this problem out?” If your partner feels bullied, out-talked, or otherwise the “loser” in a fight, you may win the battle but lose ground in the relationship. A better approach may be to use “fair fighting” techniques. A “fair fight” involves a step-by-step strategy for resolving conflict in which both partners negotiate a mutually acceptable solution to a problem.
How to Turn Conflict into Intimacy
Elizabeth Dickson, LCSW, says that moments of conflict in a relationship can offer the greatest opportunity for intimacy and personal growth. Please click here to visit her website for more information on how.