Relationships usually don’t get better just by spending more time together. It’s what you do with your time – the quality and depth of your relating – that really counts. It is my belief that in the midst of a very busy life, it is often necessary to deliberately plan to spend quality time together – even if this might at first sound unnatural, inauthentic, or even “unromantic” to you.
Schedule a regular time to talk together about your relationship issues!
Spontaneous interactions are fine, but planned times to talk are essential as well. For example, you can agree to have a serious conversation together every Friday evening from 8 – 8:30. To prepare for this talk, you may want to write yourself notes during the week as an aid in remembering what you would most like to focus on. This can be a time to focus on “unfinished business” (insufficiently talked out issues in need of clarification, understanding, and resolution.)
Some guidelines you may want to follow when having serious talks with your partner about your mutual, primary relationship:
Follow the “equal time rule.” Each partner talks for half the time. Communication often deteriorates when one person talks significantly more than the other, on an ongoing basis.
Try to limit the time you spend talking at each “turn.”. A few sentences at a time often works best. Granted, this is hard for most people to do. It takes time and effort to learn how to say less during your turn of talking. Talking for a shorter period of time helps your partner listen to, take in (digest and metabolize), and remember better what you have said. Making more than one point at a time can complicate communication.
Use “I” statements instead of “You” statements. That is, start your statements to the other using the word “I.” In this way, you are taking personal ownership for what you are saying. Starting statements with “you” not infrequently is experienced by the other as blaming and/ or attacking. He/she may then react and/or respond defensively. For example, consider the different effects and impacts the following two statements might have on the person who is listening to you: “You are frustrating me.” vs. (versus, compared to) “I am getting frustrated with you.”
Give a priority to identifying and expressing your feelings in words. Most people find it much easier to identify and say their thoughts rather than their feelings. Thoughts, opinions, and ideas are very important too, but focusing on feelings will usually give you better results. A major goal of a deeper and more effective kind of communication (and therapy) is to be able to quickly distinguish between thoughts and feelings.
Be careful not to express thoughts disguised as feelings. (An example of this is starting a sentence by saying: “I feel you are…”) Often people indirectly rather than directly express their feelings (as through the tone of their voice, or facial expressions). (Indeed, studies show that about 90% of all communication is transmitted in this way!) This can lead to a lot of problems, complications, and misunderstandings in interactions between partners. Putting words to your internal states can be very beneficial.
If the conversation is not going well, temporarily put the content of what you are talking about on hold. Focus on the process (how you are talking to one another) rather than on the content (what you are talking about). This is a time to step back, observe, and reflect upon what has just been going on between the two of you. Work together, in a cooperative partnership to try to determine what “pressed your buttons” (That is, what triggered off your negative feelings towards one another) and jointly see if you can figure out better, more effective, and satisfying ways of talking with another. If one or both of you are experiencing overly intense emotions as a result of your discussion, consider taking a time out. (For example, you can agree to take a break for a half hour, and then resume your discussion after this time to cool down and sort out your thoughts.)