How to Have Better Communication With Your Partner

Communicating effectively can be difficult, especially in relationships. Add the trauma of childh sexual abuse into the mix, and you may find that you or your significant other struggle to understand and be understood. John Gottman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at The University of Washington, developed research to identify the elements of stability in relationships. These became 7 principles known as the Gottman Method.

Some of these principles may be hard to understand, so we’ve illustrated each one of the seven with an example of what it might look like in a fictional couple’s ideal relationship.

1. Enhance Your Love Maps. A love map is the part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life. A detailed love map is better for a relationship than a vague one.

Every night when Sara and Hank come home from work, they spend the first 30 minutes of their evening talking about their day, bringing each other up to speed on what happened, and discussing how they each feel about it. They have detailed love maps for each other, knowing what’s causing stress and conflict in each other’s lives and how they’re coping.

2. Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration. Recognize the positive qualities in each other and show gratitude for them.

Hank makes lunch for Sara to take to work every day. He always writes a little note expressing something that he loves about her and puts it in with her lunch. Sara, in turn, writes love notes on the mirror in their bathroom to let Hank know that she notices how hard he works and how much he helps.

3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away. Build positive sentiment by answering the “bids” from your partner. A bid is any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, etc.

On an especially busy day, Hank was feeling overwhelmed and stressed when he received a text from Sara. “Tell me something sweet,” it read. It was a text they would often send to each other if they were having a bad day. Hank entertained the idea of ignoring it until he was less busy but stopped himself. She was asking for something she needed, and he wanted to honor that. He sent her back a list of five things he loved about her.

4. Let Your Partner Influence You. Accept where your partner is coming from and try to meet them where they are or see why they feel the way they do, even if you don’t agree. Find common ground instead of insisting things be done your way.

The way Hank ate grapefruit drove Sara crazy. It was a little thing, but it irritated her every time she saw him peeling it and eating it like an orange instead of cutting it in half and eating it with a spoon like most people did. One morning, after a sleepless night, she found herself especially annoyed by his grapefruit eating. Just as she was about to pick a fight with him about it, he smiled at her and offered her a grapefruit – cut neatly in half just for her. She laughed at herself and realized that they didn’t have to do everything the same way.

5. Solve Your Solvable Problems. Use the five following steps:
a. Soften your startup. Think through what you’re going to say, but act before feelings begin to fester. Make statements that start with “I” instead of “You.” Describe what’s happening without judging your partner or giving a solution. Be clear, and be appreciative.
b. Learn to make and receive repair attempts. Agree upon a gentle signal to communicate when you or your partner have experienced something that hurts. Make an attempt to repair the damage. Show appreciation and reinforce affirming behavior.
c. Soothe yourself and each other. Find what works best for you when you need to be comforted – and ask your partner what works best for them. Maybe it’s a time out, a break, or taking time to practice self-care.
d. Compromise. Find common ground. Compromise is a mutual decision between two or more people. Compromise is not one person giving up everything while the other person gives up nothing.
e. Be tolerant of each other’s faults. Resolving problems is impossible if you don’t accept your partner’s flaws and get over the “if onlys.”

6. Overcome Gridlock. The goal is not always to solve the problem but to open a dialogue. There may be some problems that aren’t solvable, but you can still love each other and find peace.

As a survivor, Sara sometimes won’t share what she’s feeling. Hank gets frustrated by this because he wants to help. Over time he’s realized that he can’t “fix” her childhood trauma and he can’t force her to talk about something before she’s ready. He does his best to, instead, let Sara know that he’s there for her – no matter what.

7. Create Shared Meaning. Any couple has the ability to make it work, but the happiest and healthiest couples have a unique ability to create shared meaning, whether it’s through common interests, family rituals, or talking about their dreams.

T-Rex Tuesdays started out as a joke, but it’s something that both Sara and Hank look forward to every week. They cook together, using dinosaur cookie cutters to shape their food like different dinosaurs. It’s silly and simple, but it’s one of the little rituals they’ve created to keep their relationship happy.

Every relationship looks different, and the examples of Hank and Sara above deal with mostly small, every day things. When something happens between a couple, small or big, you can work through it together by utilizing open, honest communication and the principles above.