Most of us can agree that the key to building and maintaining a healthy relationship is communication.
Allowing ourselves to share, as well as being willing to truly hear our partners, friends, or loved ones when they bare their feelings and thoughts to us are perhaps the two most difficult things to learn in human interaction. It isn’t because sharing and listening are particularly tough skills to learn; it’s because they involve vulnerability, and vulnerability often makes us uncomfortable.
In most romantic relationships, once we get past the initial romance stage, the masks come off and we begin to see each other for who we really are. We start to notice our partner’s quirks, learn about their wounds and scars, and see how they handle conflict. It is at this time when we also start to test the waters to see how vulnerable we can be with each other.
For couples, this is the beginning of many make-it-or-break-it moments. We start to see how the other interacts in everyday life, and we also have our first substantial arguments. It is during this time that we establish power roles, and when we find out what the other does when the going gets tough.
There are three little words that can mean the difference between arguing and having a good discussion, and can calm the waters, even during the biggest storms.
No, not those three words: these three words are even more meaningful because they tell your partner that you not only care about them, but that you also value their feelings and respect them as a person:
“I hear you.”
There is nothing more important in an argument with someone you want to continue to be with than to acknowledge the other person’s words and feelings. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them; it simply means you have to recognize that what they are telling you is important to them. Assuming your partner is important to you, their words and feelings, then, also become important to you.
When we tell our partners, “I hear what you’re saying,” and better yet, “I’m sorry that what I did contributed to you feeling _____,” we are saying that being in the relationship is more important to us than winning an argument.
Sometimes we have to make the choice if we’d rather be right, or if we’d rather be together. Words can sting, and often when we’ve done something wrong or caused hurt feelings intentionally or unintentionally, our first response is to become defensive and justify our actions, even when we know we weren’t right. We may argue, shut down, or blame our partner—none of which is a healthy response.
We are never too old to start learning better ways to communicate.
Genuinely acknowledging our partner’s feelings isn’t about conceding an argument. It simply forces us to think about what they are saying. All-too-often, when we argue, we are so busy coming up with the next jab that we quit listening to what is really being said.
Chances are excellent that, underneath every accusation or angry statement is an underlying message of, “I feel disrespected,” “I feel unloved,” or, “I feel hurt.” Be mindful about recognizing those hidden (or not-so-hidden) messages in both your partner and yourself, and honoring those underlying feelings by telling them, “I hear you. I hear what you are saying, and I recognize what you are feeling.”
It does not matter if you think they should be feeling them or not; to your partner, they are real, so they are valid.
Too many great romances have been cut short by poor communication when things get tough. If your partner trusts you enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable with you, and cares enough about the relationship to tell you when something isn’t working for them, you’ve got a good thing going. Keep it healthy and keep growing by learning to use these three words.
And then you can use those other three words, which are always a nice way to end a disagreement.
Author: Amanda Christmann
Editor: Catherine Monkman