Disclaimer: This article is not appropriate for those in an abusive relationship. This is intended for those who, through complacency, are having communication problems and building resentment on both sides.
Here are some communication tips that can help you reduce conflict in your relationship. Imagine how much time and energy you would save if you weren’t spending it arguing. Relationships take two, but sometimes changing your approach to conversations can help even if your partner is not actively involved.
Don’t play the blame game
Even if you think your partner causes more problems than you, or that most discord in the relationship is because of them, it should not stop you from examining your own behavior. Changing some things in yourself is much easier than trying to strong-arm your partner into changing things for themselves. If your partner is getting defensive when you bring up issues, look at how you’re raising them. If you have really tried and still at the conclusion that they are the problem, maybe they are and you should consider ending the relationship. Don’t break your back bending over backwards for someone who is indifferent to your efforts.
Avoid statements beginning with “why” and “you” when raising a problem
Examples: “Why did you leave the baby gate open?” “You didn’t put the milk back in the fridge”. This is again, about blaming and will immediately put someone on the defensive. Ask what kind of answer you’re expecting when you ask “why”? Often these questions imply that an appropriate answer is “because I am stupid.” Otherwise, you are asking for a justification of their actions. Of course, this will start an argument. “You” statements are often similar. One can generally be much kinder by omitting it for example “please put the milk back in the fridge”
Wait until you’re calm to raise issues to avoid passive-aggressive or accusatory tones
Don’t engage in arguments
If your partner snaps at you or seems mad about something, the worst thing you can do is get upset and yell back. You can say something like “we can talk about this later when you’re calm, I don’t want to fight with you.”
Just because they have raised their voice first, does not justify retaliation. “You started it” is a phrase that should be only heard from children.
Ask permission before attempting to discuss bigger problems
If my husband is in a very good mood, he will often not want to hear about problems that might upset him. If it’s not something urgent, it should wait. Sometimes it can be helpful to just ask “can I discuss a problem with you?” and if they say no, ask them when would be a better time to ask.
Don’t keep score
This is a big one that I see a lot of people do.
If you’re the kind of person who wants to do exactly 50% of the housework and 50% of the childcare and pay 50% of the rent etc… that kind of behavior is going to be very bad for your relationship. Why is this bad? Well, people tend to overvalue their own work and take their partner’s for granted. For example, your partner “only” provides income while you do all the housework and childcare. You see the latter as “more” (because you see your own effort but not your partner’s when they are at their job), so you may then feel like demanding extra things from your partner to “even things out” and resentfully declining requests that are made by your partner.
This is something I always say to people seeking marriage advice:
Marriage is not 50/50. It’s 100/100. Maybe your partner’s 100% is less than yours. Maybe it is more. It should not matter. If your partner was in a car accident tomorrow and became quadriplegic, and unable to help you with anything, would you still care for them? or would you discard them and find someone who can “help” you more? When you focus on keeping things “equal” you make the relationship all about you and what benefit you can get from the relationship, rather than the person you’re in a relationship with. Don’t obsess about where your job ends and theirs begins. Let go of any expectation to receive something for every single little thing that you do.
So when something is required of you or when your partner brings up something that bothers them, don’t bring out the mental scorecard of “you should do this because I did a, b, c, d, e, f, g….” or “well you also said x,y,z and did a, b, c so you shouldn’t be mad right now.” If you keep score, you’ll always lose.
Decline requests without bringing up the past. For example “I’ll get around to it when I have time, if you want it done right now, you’ll need to do it yourself.”
Don’t take them for granted
When they come home, say welcome. When they do something for you, say thank you. When you first see them in the morning, say “good morning.” Don’t forget about small courtesies just because you believe they should know they’re appreciated.
Let them know you want peace
If you implement things from this article without saying anything, your partner may become suspicious of what seems to be a sudden personality change. Let your partner know you want a peaceful and happy relationship, and that you’re willing to build that with them. Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t waste our energy yelling at each other? We are not enemies. I want to learn some skills so we can resolve our problems.
Maybe they will be inspired to actively learn communication skills as well.
An open heart
Try to enter all conversations with compassion. This will come more naturally as your relationship improves and you see each-other more as allies.
Listen to their wants, needs and problems they raise with interest and compassion, as you would hope they would listen to yours.