A Guide To Effective Communication In Relationships

Learning how to communicate is one of the most misunderstood facets of any relationship. Myth would have it that all it takes, even in the darkest of times, are good intentions and the patience to sit down and “work through the differences.”

The problem with this is that it is wishful thinking if we are attempting to negotiate core needs. Like it or not, people are people, and everyone needs something different. There’s every chance that negotiating isn’t possible with regards to long term core issues, and all that you’re doing is massaging each others’ insecurity.

Sure, it’s a nice gesture, but in the long term, those irrational needs of ours will trump whatever promise we’ve made if it’s crucial to our well being (a need).  We need to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves about what we need, and what can be negotiated (wants).

This is the ugly crux that often corrupts communication. That, despite our best intentions, we lose sight of what is important to us as individuals to keep the relationship afloat. It may sound a little arrogant of me, but there needs to be an element of selfishness to communication in relationships because if we’re miserable, the house of cards is going to come down anyway.

Our partner is better off deciding whether or not our needs are sustainable than they are attempting to mold us into a model (but patently miserable) partner.

Being Right Isn’t Always Right

Let’s start with the most glaring of pitfalls in relationships. The idea that objectivity rules a relationship. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth; the reality is that emotions drive relationships. And emotions, as you well know, are anything but beacons of stability.

This is why communication often fails; because being right is usually irrelevant. What matters is how something makes us feel, not what something should be according to some grand global constant. And again, why we feel what we think isn’t always logical or objective. It just is, cemented by experiences now nestled firmly in our infancy and beyond our ability to consciously reforge.

It doesn’t matter if our partner tells us we’re insensitive because we’re bothered by their loud snoring; if we’re exhausted when we stagger off to work every morning because we couldn’t sleep, the situation will soon become unsustainable. Luckily, this is something that can be addressed, but you get my point. We can consciously agree to accept this small flaw (snoring) in the name of the relationship but come the morning; we’re still going to be exhausted.

The problem remains, despite our best intentions, because we put the relationship before a core need. This is the problem with fixating on negotiating or being right rather than informing our partner that something we fundamentally need is being torn to pieces.

Not Everything Is A Need

At this point I’m aware that the article is taking a somewhat selfish turn, so I wanted to preface what comes next by saying that there is a difference between core values and desires.

Needs are things we absolutely can’t do without. They are not things we like, or things we’d simply prefer. They are things which we necessitate when it comes to our long-term well being and fulfillment.

The vast majority of issues deal with wants rather than needs. However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell which is which. For instance:

  • Being in a bad mood will make wants feel like needs (low tolerance).
  • Being in a good mood will make needs feel like wants (high tolerance).

Remember the heady days at the start of your relationships? Those hormonally driven daydreams where every flaw your partner has feels like a feature rather than a problem? That’s a high tolerance for you. The problem is, it’s a temporary spell, and sooner or later those flaws will test your ability to continue to hack it.

So, given this ongoing emotional complexity, how do we definitively tell needs from wants? There’s no rulebook for this, but if you ask me, a need is something without which you can’t function in the long term. A timeless example would be the need for privacy and alone time. Everyone needs to know there’s a cave to which they can retreat. To deny a partner their time alone is to slowly, but surely, wear them out psychologically.

The Value Of Being A little Selfish

We live in a world where everyone prattles on good-naturedly about the value of self-sacrifice and negotiation. This is all good and well because without the ability to bend, a relationship is doomed to snap.

We all know this or understand the concept objectively (even if we don’t do it). What we tend to gloss over is the fact that relationships require both parties to be able to be a little selfish. If you can’t freely communicate what is important to you, and convey in no uncertain terms what is not up for negotiation, you risk giving away too much of what makes you, you. The cold hard truth is, no matter who you are, that there are things which are unstainable. We’re human, we’re quirky and fundamentally irrational. Deal with it.

We are taught that direct communication is tantamount to confrontation, so we either take one for the team or negotiate too much. Again, there’s no such thing as being “right” when it comes to our emotions. So while our partner might be making an objectively reasonable request, there’s no guarantee it’s something that we can agree to (and feel fulfilled in the long term).

Instead of tip-toeing around issues out of fear, I firmly believe that both partners are better off knowing that if there’s a problem, it will be brought up directly and honestly. It may be uncomfortable to deal with the elephant in the room, but with a little practice open communication becomes liberating, and more to the point, it solves problems.

The Value Of Effective Communication In Relationships

Thrusting our indignity into the quivering arms of our partner may seem selfish from afar, but in the end, they will know that if all is silent from here on out, it means all is well. It’s a piece of mind at an admittedly high price, but it does pay off.

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