By Iesha Gibbons, AMFT
All couples have disagreements, arguments, and even fights. It’s just part of being in a long-term, committed relationship. But how can two people have a healthy disagreement, argument, or fight? What can they do? Healthy communication, while it looks differently for different couples, it generally involves listening to understand, speaking from your own perspective, self-awareness, and openly expressing your emotions.
When disagreeing, arguing, or fighting with another person we all have the tendency to listen only enough to have information we can use to support our point. In our romantic relationships this can be damaging since we are not listening completely to the other person. We need to fight against this automatic tendency and try to listen to the other person. Listening to understand is not a complicated process. It simply means when another person is talking, we are focusing on what they are saying so we can be 100% sure we understand. That may mean that we need to not interrupt or be focused on what we are going to say next. We simply need to actively listen so we can fully understand and follow the other person. When we do so we can more accurately speak to what another person thinks or feels, and they feel understood. Our conversations will then be more productive because we are working together.
Speaking from your perspective
The second part of having healthy communication involves speaking from your own perspective. This means you are saying what you think or feel and not speaking for another person. Instead of saying, “You think we should just blow all of our money” speaking from your own perspective would like, “It sounds to me like you want to spend all of our money”. Speaking from your own perspective allows you to express how you think, feel, or perceive another person without attacking them or telling them what they are doing. You are still saying what you want or need to say, just without hurting someone you care about in the process. Conversations will be more productive because you are expressing yourself and allowing the other person to do the same.
Self-awareness is a vital ingredient in healthy communication. Self-awareness means just what it says: you are aware of yourself. In the context of communication, this means you know what you are thinking and feeling and are using that to help you have a productive conversation. Knowing your feelings means you are not caught off guard when you are angry or hurt by the other person. Instead, you recognize those feelings and use that information to help you express yourself. Knowing your thoughts means you recognize what your opinions and perspectives are, and you use this information to more clearly express yourself. Without self-awareness, we often let our emotions and thoughts control us instead of using this tool to helps us communicate.
Effective communication often means that we can openly express our emotions to the other person. Emotions give us important information about how we are being impacted by others. Emotions also drive a lot of our interactions. When we are aware of these emotions, we can then openly express those to important people in our lives. This means that we tell others when we are hurt, angry, sad, or scared. When we name these emotions, they lose some of their control over us because we have acknowledged that they are there, and we are not fighting against them. When we tell another person what we are feeling they then have an idea what is going on for us. Without us telling others how we are feeling they will not have a very accurate idea because other people cannot read our minds. We must clue them in on how we are feeling. Once we do so they then have some idea how to proceed in the conversation. For instance, if we tell another person we are angry they might give us space to calm down before continuing a conversation that will only make us angrier. Healthy conversations require us to be open with another person, especially one we have a romantic connection with.
Now, the next time you get into an argument, disagreement, or fight you know what you can do to have a healthier interaction. Keep in mind that these skills take practice to develop, so as you try to implement them in your relationship things might not change drastically at first. But the more you try to listen to understand, speak from your own perspective, be self-aware, and be open with your emotions the more connected you will feel, the easier conflicts will be to manage, and the happier you may be in your relationship.