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I am no expert in what makes a successful romantic relationship. I have been in a couple of failed long-term relationships and am divorced after all. However, the silver lining in failing is the lessons you take away. I learned so much about who I need to be as a partner and what I need in another. Lessons I wouldn’t have learned if I hadn’t tried, and failed, in those relationships. Of course, every romantic relationship is different and there is no rulebook that works for everyone. But there are two things I have dealt with and learned from, repeatedly, that can make or break a relationship.
COMMUNICATION IN A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP
Communication is key to any successful romantic relationship. We all have our different communication styles and sometimes those styles don’t mesh. It’s fine if a couple has different ways they feel comfortable communicating. What is not fine is when couples cannot meet in the middle to effectively express their feelings.
Effective communication is truly an art. It is a skill that most of us develop young and like all skills, it is one that needs to be worked on. Unfortunately, many people become scarred by life experiences and one of the skills that suffer the most from them is communication. When you commit to another person, it is essential that you keep the lines of communication open and receptive. The best ways to do this are:
- Know your own limitations and work on them. Communication is very personal and it comes with baggage. Examine how you feel most comfortable communicating and express that to your partner. Do you need to take time to process before discussing it with your partner? Tell them! Do you have trouble opening up to your partner? Ask yourself why. Be really honest with yourself and then work on what is holding you back.
- Know how your partner reacts and plan accordingly. Does he immediately get defensive when you bring something up? Does she start bringing up every issue when you’re trying to focus on one thing? Try to form your approach while considering your partner’s style as well. Communication can be spontaneous, but bigger issues usually build over time. If you want to have a meaningful and effective exchange, plan for it. Well-thought-out discussions are typically more productive.
- Respect each other’s communication styles as much as possible. I am an instantaneous reactor. If something happens, I want to talk it out and I want to talk it out NOW. My ex-husband shut down and tuned out. My current boyfriend is a stonewaller. When he feels even remotely attacked, he puts up his walls as a defense mechanism. That is in direct opposition to how I want things to go. Unless you and your partner have the same communication style, you will have to compromise. And you will have to be okay with it. It is important to have a discussion about how you can meet in the middle so you both have the opportunity to process like you need to.
- Actively listen to one another. Whether we want to admit it or not, most people listen to respond. They half listen to what the other is saying while formulating their response. It is impossible to truly listen to what someone is saying if you have any sort of ulterior motive working simultaneously. You end up hearing only what matters to your point and you may miss something critical to the other person. Active listening is a difficult skill, but one that when achieved will make a positive impact on all communication.
- Make an effort. A romantic relationship is work. Meaningful communication is work. If you really try to understand your own communication issues and respect those of your partner, the rewards will be enormous.