Honest relationship communication as the key to success for happy couples

There is hardly any form of relationship like the romantic relationship. In this relationship, you get to know each other so well, there is so much intimacy, and so many areas of your life are shared. Sooner or later in relationships, you reach the point where your partner and you have different needs. For example, one person may want to spend a lot of time with friends, while the other wants to spend more time as a couple. After all, different needs exist where two people meet. Yet many couples find it difficult to talk openly about their own needs. However, it is central to learn this skill in order to be in a fulfilling romantic relationship. Therefore, one thing is especially important: honest, open relationship communication! You'll learn 3 techniques to improve your couple communication in this article.

Understanding the problem: Why is clear, effective relationship communication often so difficult?

To begin, we can ask ourselves the question: Why do misunderstandings and communication problems occur so often at all? Why is successful communication so difficult for couples somehow? Misunderstandings often occur because partners talk to each other on different levels.

The communication model

Schulz von Thun's communication model illustrates how multifaceted our communication messages are. It explains why misunderstandings occur so often. If one person only wants to communicate a fact, the other may understand an appeal. The model consists of the following components:

couple works on relationship communication
  • Self-statement: What feelings, values, needs does the speaker reveal about himself?
  • Appeal: Is there a demand behind it?
  • Objective aspect: What is the person saying (in a matter-of-fact way)?
  • Relationship aspect: What is the relationship between speaker and listener? What does the speaker think about the receiver? (communicated through facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice)

Example of the communication model

As an example situation, let's look at an argument between Tom and Lisa. This argument was triggered by Tom saying "The garbage hasn't been taken down in three days." Lisa is responsible for taking down the trash this week.

  • Self-statement: Perhaps Tom is talking about his need for order and organization in the home. He may also be speaking of his desire for both of them to care about these things. Or Tom may want to express how important reliability is to him.
  • Appeal: Tom might also want to encourage Lisa to take down the garbage.
  • Factual aspect: Tom talks factually about the fact that the garbage has remained in the apartment for three days.
  • Relationship aspect: Tom possibly reveals about his relationship with Lisa that he is annoyed and angry because Lisa is so disorganized and unreliable.

Through the example, it becomes clear how different the message that reaches Lisa can be. Therefore, Lisa may interpret the message differently depending on the level at which she understands Tom's sentence.

The solution to improve your relationship communication

One solution to deal with the ambiguity of communication messages and improve your communication is the so-called non-violent communication. Nonviolent communication can help you to express your messages clearly. With this method you talk about your feelings and needs, and thus you can significantly improve the communication in your relationship.

Nonviolent communication- conflict conversations for conflict avoiders

Nonviolent communication avoids accusations, judgments and criticism. Instead, it speaks of observations, feelings and needs. In this way, even conflict-averse people can learn to express what is important to them. As a result, conflicts can be more relaxed and less emotionally charged.

couple communication

Nonviolent communication as a method to improve your relationship communication

Talking about needs is a skill that you can learn and practice well. It also helps in interpersonal interactions in general. Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication is a technique designed to help you communicate needs in conflict situations. The technique is based on the fact that you first describe the situation in an objective and non-judgmental way. In the next step, you name your feelings. In the third step, you name the need behind it. Finally, you express a wish or a request as to how this need could be fulfilled.

An example of this is a situation in which one person is late and the other person is angry about it. Nonviolent communication here might look like this:

Situation: You showed up 15 minutes after four o'clock, and the appointment time was four o'clock.

Feeling: I am annoyed and sad,

Need: because reliability is important to me and it is very essential to me to use my time effectively.

Wish/ Request: Next time, could you let me know ahead of time so that I can manage my time better?

You are responsible for your feelings

Another key point is that you are responsible for your feelings. After all, they are dependent on your needs, not the actions of others. Instead of thinking "you're making me angry or sad," it's about communicating why the other person's behavior is causing me an emotion. In doing so, his behavior certainly fulfills his need. But your need is not fulfilled. The general attitude here is appreciative. This is because you try to understand the other person and you are open to the other person's needs.

How to identify your needs

Often it is not so easy to name the need. Because at first you often only feel the emotion, e.g. anger or sadness. But you can use the emotion as a "clue" that leads you to your needs. You can ask yourself: What was important to you and was not fulfilled? You can also train yourself to recognize your own needs. For example, you can start to reflect once a day on what needs you have experienced during the day. A list of needs can help you to recognize your own needs and to better understand your own behavior.

Your training in active listening

In addition to clearly communicating your own perceptions, feelings, and needs, good communication also includes attentive listening. Do you have difficulties listening to your partner? Are you wondering how you can listen more attentively? Perhaps the technique of active listening is right for you. Often, while listening, you are already mentally preparing a response. Or you want to share a similar experience, or an opinion. But active listening is about giving the speaker your full attention. It also gives him/her the opportunity to express himself/herself completely. This allows him/her to address his/her needs and feelings on a deeper level.

Active Listening Exercise

Take 15 minutes of undisturbed time.

The first person has 10 minutes. During this time, she can talk undisturbed about what she wants. Current difficulties in a professional or private context, for example, are well suited.
Try to recognize the speaker's feelings. Also pay attention to the way something is told. Check facial expressions and gestures. Try to identify hidden needs. When the speaker has finished speaking, you have 5 minutes. You can first summarize what you have heard in your own words. Then try to describe what feelings and needs you perceived.

You are welcome to comment on whether the speaker's assumptions are correct. Did you really feel the feelings & needs that were mentioned?

Reflection: discuss together how the exercise was for you and how it made you feel.

This technique can help the speaker feel more understood. It can also help him/her know him/herself better. Overall, this will improve your communication! I hope some of the methods give you new ideas on how to improve your relationship communication. I wish you a lot of fun trying them out!

Many greetings,
yours Theresa

I'm happy to hear from you what you think about the article. What do you personally find difficult in communicating with your partner? Feel free to leave me a comment!

Are looking for support to change your communication behaviour with your partner? I would be happy to accompany you!

You can find more information about Nonviolent Communication on the Nonviolent Communication website (English) here.

My sources:

  • Rosenberg, M. B. (2015). Nonviolent communication: A language of life (3rd ed.). PuddleDancer Press.
  • Schulz von Thun Institut für Kommunikation. (n.d.). das Kommunikationsquadrat. Retrieved February 1, 2022, from  https://www.schulz-von-thun.de/die-modelle/das-kommunikationsquadrat.  
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