Why talking is important for communication and relationships
Talking together builds understanding. Talking with your partner about everyday things – like what you’re doing and how you’re both feeling – is one of the main ways that partners connect. It can also help you and your partner prevent and resolve problems or conflict.
This means it’s important to talk together in positive ways. What you say and how you say it, including your body language, influence how your partner understands and responds to you.
When you talk and listen with your partner in positive and constructive ways, you help your children develop well and thrive. When children see you behaving and communicating with your partner in these ways, children learn to behave this way too. These are important social and communication skills for life.
Talking and communication: basic steps
Constructive talking starts with some simple steps:
- Pick your moment.
- Be positive.
- Keep it brief.
- Take responsibility for your feelings.
- Avoid saying hurtful things.
1. Pick your moment
When you want to talk to your partner, it’s often best to do it when everyone is calm and has time to listen, or when your children aren’t around or are asleep.
If you need to talk about a difficult issue, you might need to wait until the issue is over, or make a time to talk later if you or your partner is very upset or angry.
Sometimes it’s better to let little things go and save negotiations for issues that mean a lot to you. Ask yourself if an issue is really important before raising it with your partner.
2. Be positive
Everyone likes to feel appreciated, so look for opportunities to say positive things to your partner. For example, ‘I really appreciate you doing the school drop-offs so I can get to work on time’.
If your partner is used to getting praise and encouragement from you, your partner is more likely to listen when you have to raise a problem. And you can raise problems in a positive way too. For example, ‘It’s great when you let me know in advance that you have a morning appointment. That way I can reschedule my morning meetings for after drop-off’.
Communication is also easier and more positive if you use open body language, which includes:
- sitting or standing in a relaxed way
- trying not to frown or look too serious
- making eye contact with your partner
- sitting or standing near each other.
You might be surprised at how often the basics of politeness can slip in long-term relationships. Words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can help a lot when you’re talking to your partner!
3. Keep it brief
Long and wordy explanations can sound like a lecture. They can also be a barrier to your partner understanding you.
Instead, it can help to think about what’s most important for your partner to hear, then try to describe it in as few words as possible. For example, ‘Jordy wants you to be at his music concert this weekend. It’s on at the same time as your gym class. Do you think you can skip your class this week?’
Sometimes other issues and concerns will come up, but it’s best to stay focused on the topic. For example, ‘I know you hardly get any time for yourself these days and we can talk about that later, but can we first decide if you can be at Jordy’s concert?’
4. Take responsibility for your feelings
It’s better to share your own feelings and thoughts about a situation – particularly vulnerable feelings like worry, doubt or sadness – instead of talking about what your partner is or isn’t doing.
‘I statements’ can help with this. For example, you could say, ‘You’re often on your phone or laptop. And I have to get dinner ready and look after the children’. But it might be better to say, ‘I feel really stressed when I’m rushing around to get dinner ready. I’d find it easier if the children were occupied. Could you be available to help out around dinner time?’
Your partner is likely to feel more open and less defensive if you take this approach.
5. Avoid saying hurtful things
Some ways of talking are likely to hurt your partner’s feelings and make your partner less likely to listen to you. So try to avoid:
- calling your partner names – for example, ‘You’re stupid’
- bringing up the past – for example, ‘This is just like last time’
- questioning your partner’s intentions or motivation – for example, ‘You just don’t care’
- making unhelpful comparisons – for example, ‘You’re just like your mother!’
It’s also best to avoid phrases that imply that someone is always wrong or not trying – for example, ‘You always ...’ and ‘You never ...’. These statements can make your partner defensive too.
Talking isn’t something you do only when you have a problem. If you set aside regular time to share thoughts and feelings and enjoy each other’s company, it’s good for your communication and relationship overall. And it’s good practice for talking when there is a problem.
Getting help with talking and communication
All relationships have their ups and downs. But if you’re really upset at the end of most conversations with your partner or you feel that you don’t ever get to share your feelings, it might help to speak to someone.
Relationship counsellors can help you and your partner identify the issues that are upsetting you and what you can do about them. You could try the following options:
- Call Relationships Australia in your state or territory on 1300 364 277.
- Call Family Relationships Online on 1800 050 321.
- See your GP to talk things through and get a referral to a psychologist or relationship or family counselling service.
- Find a psychologist or counselling service through the Australian Psychology Society, Australian Counselling Association or Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.
If your partner doesn’t want to go to a counsellor it’s still worth seeking help, even by yourself.
Family violence is not OK. If you’re in a relationship that involves family violence, call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).