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 and constructive 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 child develop well and thrive. When your child sees you behaving and communicating with your partner in these ways, they 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 about a problem or concern, it’s often best to do it when you’re both calm and have time to listen to each other, and when your child isn’t around or is 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’.
Raising problems in a positive way can also make it easier to have these conversations with your partner. 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. This includes:
- sitting or standing in a relaxed way
- keeping a neutral or positive facial expression
- making eye contact with your partner
- sitting or standing near each other
- turning your body towards your partner
- not crossing your arms or legs.
- using gestures that show you’re listening, like nodding or leaning in.
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 when you’re talking with 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. Can we first decide if you can be at Jordy’s concert?’
To keep things brief, you could try writing down the main things you want to say ahead of time. Try to stick to clear, short points.
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.
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 help out around dinner time?’
‘We’ statements can also help. For example, you could say, ‘It would be great if we could both try to avoid using our phones at dinner’. This lets your partner know that you share responsibility for the challenges in your relationship and that you’ll work through them together.
Your partner is likely to feel more open and less defensive if you use these kinds of statements.
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:
- putting your partner down – for example, calling them names or labelling them in negative ways like ‘You’re stupid’ or ‘You’re so sensitive’
- 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.
If you feel angry and don’t give yourself time to calm down, you might say or do unhelpful or hurtful things. If you notice you’re starting to feel angry, it’s important to pause and do things to calm down. The earlier you do this, the easier it’ll be to manage your anger.
Getting help with talking and communication
All relationships have their ups and downs. But if you’re 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 Domestic Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).