30 Oct 6 Tips For Communicating About Tricky Relationship Issues

Sometimes, when I work with couples, I hear:

“… But we ALREADY communicate!”…

And it’s true. Everyone communicates with each other all the time: what we say (and don’t say), what we do (and don’t do), how we look, how we touch…

happy couple photoHowever, if my couples clients tell me that they are already good at communicating, I’d bet my bottom dollar that the way they are communicating can always be improved.

Couples don’t always communicate well at all, especially if they’re dealing with some sort of relationship distress.

It’s a real skill to know how to communicate really well, especially with emotions involved.

And by “well”, I mean in a way that allows you to grow closer together as you deal with problems, not to clash heads or to grow more and more apart.

If you find it hard to communicate about difficult things, these 6 tips are for you:


1. Stop treating communication like it’s not important. 

Are you talking about difficult relationship things at the wrong times and in the wrong places? If you’ve ever discussed an issue with your partner while simultaneously rushing to get out the door on time, cook dinner, or send an important email, you’ll know that this feels crazy. And is. No wonder so many couples learn to really hate communicating about difficult things.

2. Stop doing stuff that’s harmful.

Not only do you need to learn to stop communicating about important stuff when you’re busy, sick, drunk, hungry, tired, or distracted. You also need to learn not to go there when one or both of you are so emotionally flooded that you’re likely to be mean or say destructive things.

Your relationship is important, so treat it that way. Find a time and place to be together where you can focus and talk like the adults that you are.

3. Don’t believe that “more” is “better”.

If you believe that you communicate really well, you might be wrong. It’s possible that to your partner, your insightful monologues and probing questions sound like endless talking-that-goes-nowhere. If this is the case, you’ve probably become “white noise”. They’ll tune out.

It’s often the partner who does less of the talking that has the most to say. It’s your job to pipe down and help them learn to contribute to your conversations in a constructive way.

4. Listen. Without judgement.  

When partners feel heard, they say and do less destructive things, and they say and do more lovely things.

Remove distractions. Listen. Paraphrase. Ask for clarification when you’re confused. Prompt for more information. Suspend your own thoughts and responses for a while. Imagine what it’s like to be him or her. Allow you partner to really finish speaking. Then, have your turn, and expect your partner to listen as well as you’ve done.

You’ll find that special things happen when you both feel really heard.

5. Develop your own self awareness.

Are you really sure that you know what it is you want to communicate? Really? It takes skill to gather the data that makes us “us”: to really know what we are thinking, feeling, wanting and needing. It also takes skill to know how to put that together in a way that is honest, respectful and kind.

Get this right, and you’ll notice that problems stop becoming toxic and start becoming the very things that bring you both closer together.

6. Keep a sense of humour.

Humour is a great way to stay connected and to keep a positive focus, even when your relationship feels it’s on shaky ground. See if you can both keep a sense of humour even when things get tricky. Be respectful, but find opportunities for banter. A well placed joke can be a great conflict diffuser.

Relationship problems are normal and inevitable. The way you communicate about them really matters. Handle them well, and they’ll help you both to grow closer, rather than further apart. 

Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. For over 20 years she has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive. Contact Pamela here.