Improving Communication and Problem Solving in Intimate Relationships

We all want to be in a loving relationship that is healthy and “works”. But most of us haven’t been taught the skills that make for successful relationships, and we carry issues from our childhoods and past relationships into the present as well. So what can we do to give our intimate relationships the best chance of long term success? In this article, therapist Teyhou Smyth looks at two interconnected skills that can be learned and improved upon over time to give your relationship the best chance of success.

image for blog post communication problem solving intimate relationshipsCouples who are in it for the long-haul are often looking for ways to make the relationship better. The two most important areas for couples to focus on for a healthy relationship are communication and problem solving. Strong skills in these areas can help couples overcome obstacles that could become quite destructive if left unresolved.

Common areas of conflict within relationships include:

  • finances
  • division of labour
  • trust issues
  • coparenting
  • sex & intimacy and
  • problems with extended family.

Tackling these areas and finding ways to resolve issues compassionately and with effective communication can help couples become stronger and closer than ever.

Tips for Better Communication

Communication can become a barrier for many reasons in relationships. To overcome communication problems, couples can commit to strategies that reduce conflict and open avenues to greater understanding. Here are some methods that help people achieve better communication in their relationships.

Listen to understand, not form a rebuttal: Often when couples disagree on a topic, they end up not listening to their partner and instead focus on their next statements or arguments. Staying attentive to your partner’s thoughts and trying to understand their point of view can help reduce the feeling of not being heard and increase the odds of your partner listening to you with the same intent to understand.
Agree to keep voices calm and not interrupt: During conflict, emotions can easily escalate. Make an agreement with your partner in advance that there will be no yelling or interrupting. Conversations can be far less stressful when ground rules are set and both parties respect the boundaries in place. If it becomes difficult to abide by these ground rules, agree to take a half hour cool down period to be alone and then resume the conversation.
Make eye contact: As simple as it sounds, maintaining eye contact during conversation is a sign of respect and attention. Couples naturally begin to make less eye contact over time, and it happens gradually. To improve communication, try to resume eye contact and use non-verbal cues to show that you are engaged in your partner’s thoughts and feelings.

Problem Solving Skills

All couples face challenges together during a relationship. The way couples choose to solve those problems as a unit can either reinforce the bond or break it down. Communication during problem solving is one important aspect, as well as giving a problem adequate time and attention it needs to achieve resolution.

Create a pros and cons list: For some challenges, couples may find that listing the positives and negatives of an issue may be helpful. It can help uncover objective points and move away from emotional reasoning.
Establish parameters: Some couples do well with creating a set of expectations for themselves around decision making and problem solving. For example, if a couple is trying to deal with financial problems, it may help to discuss all spending over a certain dollar amount or create a budget together that takes into account financial goals and needs.
Parenting: For problem solving around raising kids, couples should agree to make decisions together to avoid one or the other always being the “strict” one and model healthy communication skills as a family.

When couples are intentional about their efforts toward better communication and problem solving, relationships can improve dramatically and stand the test of time. A healthy relationship is well worth the hard work and effort to make it last, and by committing to communication and problem-solving strategies, couples can observe the fruits of their efforts relatively fast.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website ~ some content may have been modified for the UK & Irish context.]

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