This was his first question after learning that I’m a sexuality educator. It wasn’t my first time receiving this question, nor the last. But it’s usually the follow-up after someone bares their relationship or sexual hardships to me, and I cater my answer to fit their needs. I knew nothing about this person, except, like me, he had been waiting in line for over 20 minutes to use the Porta Potty. I happily took the distraction from contemplating peeing my pants to thoughtfully consider his question. Here’s what I told him:
Learn How to Effectively Communicate
I watched his smile fall to a frown. He thought I’d tell him about a mind-blowing sexual technique or some holy grail product (hello, Uberlube). However, an astounding number of relationship/sexual issues can be alleviated with effective communication. It keeps arguments from growing out of control, helps both partners remain respectful, and builds and maintains trust, which is the foundation of any healthy relationship. If you take the veil off the phrase “couples who argue together, stay together,” what it’s really saying is, “couples who effectively communicate together have a healthier relationship.”
Effective communication is a learned skill. The more you practice it, the easier it becomes. Once you get the basics down, it can quickly become a superpower in your relationship.
Be honest with yourself and your partner. First and foremost, be honest. Telling your partner what they want to hear is counterproductive. Know your truth, and don’t leave your partner guessing.
Listen with empathy. Rather than thinking about it as taking turns talking, think about it as taking turns listening. When your partner is talking, it is an opportunity for you to really hear them. Listening is an active role in the conversation, and arguably the most important. If you don’t understand, ask clarifying questions.
Use “I” statements, and be specific. When it’s your partner’s turn to listen, use this general template: “I felt X when Y.” Instead of saying “you humiliated me at the dinner party,” try “I felt embarrassed when you told people about…” This takes power away from the blame game, and puts the focus where it needs to be.
Be aware of non-verbals. A lot of your communication comes from your body language and facial expressions. Facing your partner, making eye contact, and nodding when you understand are simple but effective ways to illustrate that you’re actively listening. Avoid crossing your arms, rolling your eyes, and smirking, which can send a signal that you don’t care.
It’s alarming how many adults need to be reminded of the following. We all slip up, especially in heated moments. But please, for the love of all that is good, implement the following now and forever.
Do not bring dead arguments back to life. Once an argument has been concluded, keep it that way. Past arguments need to stay in the past.
Absolutely NO name-calling. No exceptions. It’s childish and hurtful. Not “I didn’t say you are a butthead, I said you were acting like a butthead.” Seriously, just don’t even go there.
Do not interrupt before your partner has finished their thought. Otherwise, you may miss their point.
Effective communication isn’t only a superpower for couples in arguments. These skills are transferable to discussing positive and upbeat topics, and communicating with business partners, friends, and family as well. When everyone feels respected, trust can build, and relationships can flourish.