Asking what defines a successful relationship is like asking what makes a perfectly baked cake.
Every ingredient gives the cake its excellence. Same goes for relationships—various components have to come together to ensure the success of a relationship.
So what defines a good relationship? There is a myriad of answers. To name a few: trust, respect, self-love, honesty, safety, teamwork, compromise, understanding, connection.
But there is one thing that sets the tone for all of these: communication.
The Buddhist view of relationships is something that has always intrigued me. According to Buddhists, romantic relationships are likely to fail because of misunderstandings and misconceptions between partners.
When I reflected on that notion in regards to my own experiences (and other people’s), I found that it’s surprisingly true. The greater part of relationships is built on misunderstandings. Most of the time, we make an assumption about what our partner is feeling or thinking, and we act accordingly. Simultaneously, we create the same assumptions in our partner’s mind. We either fall silent, or we communicate our needs in an unhealthy way that prevents the listener from receiving them well.
For instance, we might feel that our partner is ignoring us, whereas they think they’re giving us the attention we need. This sort of misunderstanding could lead to cheating or to the disruption of connection between both partners. Another example is to assume that we understand our partner or what they need. This could lead to a clash between what we think our partner needs and what they truly need.
That said, miscommunication promotes misunderstandings—which, in return, leads to the failure of all the things that I have mentioned above, including trust, self-love, honesty, and teamwork.
That is why couple’s therapy tends to work. Not because they involve a professional counselor, but because the counselor pushes the couples to talk. In the session, partners communicate to each other about their feelings and concerns. As a result, problems are identified and discussed.
Communication might not stop relationships from failing, but it definitely puts them back on the right track. Even in moments of separation, partners with good communication skills separate in a healthy way, without future delusions or speculations.
I know how challenging it can be to talk about certain things in a relationship. Oftentimes, we’re unable to utter the words that are perfectly written in our minds. Perhaps we’re scared to come off as needy, controlling, jealous, or oversensitive—or maybe we’re simply scared to not get the result we hope for. In a previous relationship I was in years ago, my former partner called me crazy and oversensitive every time I tried to communicate my concerns. This, in return, did drive me crazy—and it often ended up with name calling and insults.
Having said that, remember that it takes two to tango. A simple conversation could drift to blaming, judging, playing the victim, and demeaning the other person’s needs if one of the partners is doing it wrong. The receiver is as important as the one talking.
So how can we create a healthy atmosphere for a proper communication?
Detaching from our ego.
“But what does my ego have to do with this?” Our ego runs the show when it comes to our inability to communicate. The ego loathes failure, likes to play the victim, and thinks that it knows. (These are the three main hindrances for miscommunication.)
If we want our relationship to succeed, we have to be willing to communicate. We might be too lazy to talk or underestimate the power of talking, so we drop the conversation altogether. Know that communication not only helps to clear out concerns, but it also helps partners to stay connected.
There is a thin line between a discussion and an argument.
So what truly differentiates the two? Discussion is about listening and understanding. Arguments are all about trying to prove yourself right. Arguments don’t really lead anywhere in relationships—they only make things worse.
In order to keep a discussion healthy, we need to gather as much information as possible and receive it in a mindful way. For example, if our partner feels ignored, we can respond in two ways. The first way is to ask them why they feel ignored, or what we have done to bring forth those emotions. The other way is to argue that it could not possibly be true, since we’re sure we’re not ignoring our partner.
The latter is likely to turn into an argument, and it gives birth to unresolved conflicts. If we’re the one communicating, let’s be honest and clear. If we’re receiving the talk, let’s put our own emotions aside, listen, and understand what is being communicated to us.
It all boils down to how you communicate.
Stay aware of your voice tone as you speak. Are you being defensive or extremely passive-aggressive? Are you using “I” and “me” more than “we”? Do you want things done your own way because you think you’re right?
Always remember that how we communicate speaks louder than the words themselves. When speaking your concerns, try to show your partner that you’re doing this for the success of the relationship—and not just because you need it to be done. Additionally, don’t forget to mention your partner’s positive traits when you’re communicating that you want something to be improved within the relationship. Balance is key.
Essentially, let’s not assume or try to read our partner’s mind. Whenever we feel we’re falling into the grip of disillusionment, we must pick ourselves up again and revert to communication.