In my family relationships aren’t a lifelong commitment. For any reason, any time someone is likely not speaking to someone, disowning family members, or filing for divorce. Even my grandparents have been divorced. I mean really… that’s back in the day when it was near to impossible and extremely socially unacceptable. To say that the relationships in my family were volatile and I didn’t have much of an example as to how to navigate happy, healthy relationships is putting it mildly. I was at a complete loss. And like most areas of self-help and personal development, I always felt like all the books and expert advice was either way over my head, absurdly complicated, or overwhelming. So, after 21 years of happy marriage and a multitude of additional happy, healthy relationships. I think it’s time to share the 1 simple absolute must for keeping all your relationships happy and healthy.
The 1 Must Do for a Happy, Healthy Relationship
So, not only would I say that this one thing is a must do to create happy, healthy relationships, but I would say it is THE must do. Often people talk about love, trust, or loyalty as essential to relationships, but you can’t have any of those without this one simple element.
Yeah… I’m sure you’ve heard it before. I mean if you’ve ever tried to make a relationship work you know that good communication is key. The issue is, what makes communication good, why does it matter so much, and how can you create good communication habits. So, let’s dig in and make this must do totally doable even if you’ve never tried before or even seen good communication in your lifetime.
What Counts as Good Communication
Often when you pose the question what makes good communication the first thing that comes to mind is “honest”. And let me just BE honest here and say this has been getting people in trouble for a long time (as any Autistic person can tell you). The problem isn’t that honesty is overrated, it’s that its often opinion based and sometimes it’s best to keep our opinions to ourselves.
Telling your best friend that you don’t like her new boyfriend because you think he’s dull or informing your postpartum wife that she could stand to lose a few pounds might be honest but that doesn’t make it good communication.
Good communication is compassionate and intentional which often doesn’t mean honest. If you don’t have anything nice to say, consider doing some self-reflection. You may just need to make a shift within yourself or at the very least find a place of true compassion to root your conversation in.
All this notwithstanding, please understand that the people in your life aren’t psychic so it is very important to tell them how you feel and be honest and clear about your needs and boundaries (just not so much about your opinions).
Honesty in measure is a good thing in communication if you want to maintain happy, healthy relationships.
Why Does it Matter?
Compassionate and clear communication helps create emotional intimacy and connection. And emotional intimacy and connection helps us feel seen, heard, and valued. Relationships that are rooted in the foundation of good communication are better able to weather the storms of life, misunderstandings, and changes. They are likely to be more adaptable and resilient. This is not only because the ability to communicate allows us to problem solve as a team but also because we are more innately committed to those we share history and similarity with which is often discovered through communication. Meaning, you tend to value and be committed to the relationships you communicate in and communicate in the ones you value. Or at least that’s what we’re wired to perceive and that’s essential to creating happy, healthy relationships.
Sometimes it’s Scary
Now, if you’re anything like me this might be the spot where you’re getting a little hung up. If you grow up without the best models of healthy relationships and communication, you may struggle to create these connections or to even understand why it matters. Perhaps you know that one couple that has stayed married for years in part because of the things they don’t talk about and maybe you’re thinking that’s not such a bad idea, after all, it’s a sure way to avoid being vulnerable and stay safe.
I can tell you why communication matters all day long, but if you feel like there are still some things you shouldn’t say because …
- If they don’t know they can’t reject you or let you down.
- Talking about things, especially the hard things, leads to conflict and abandonment.
- No one has ever cared what you want before so why would they now?
- It’s not really possible to get your needs met in your relationships so why bother talking about it.
- In your family boundaries aren’t allowed.
- You aren’t worthy of consideration and should just do all the things for all the people all the time without complaint or discussion.
I completely get that. It can be very difficult to establish good communication habits when we struggle with any of these concerns. And the truth is, even people who have the best examples and models in their lives still struggle with this. Because hey, we’re human and being vulnerable to another person can be scary. But just so you know. It matters, as in matters a lot and it’s really worth the effort!
How to Create Good Communication Habits
Creating good communication habits isn’t only about being willing to share but also being willing to listen and ask good questions. For those of us who may struggle a little bit with letting people in this can be a real relief!
Pave the way for good communication by…
- Having distraction free conversations (even if they need to be scheduled).
- Identifying what is appropriate and safe to communicate in this relationship.
- Asking thoughtful questions.
- Listening intently (rather than thinking of what you’ll say next).
- Not rushing conversations. (If the other person is listening to you, they may need a moment after you’ve finished speaking to formulate their response. Give them this time / ask for this time).
- Knowing what matters to you and what you want to say without creating expectations or fears about the other’s response.
Next, communicate the important things well, based on your level of commitment, connection, and trust…
- Who you are and how you see the world.
- What you find meaningful and important.
- What lights you up.
- Share your fears, challenges, and struggles.
- Describe where you see yourself in the future, what are your goals and dreams.
- Share your triumphs and what you’re proud of.
Lastly, communicate the imperative things well, using “I” statements…
- What you need, want, and expect.
- Boundaries (especially those most important to you).
- Why it matters. Giving someone the why is often the motivation they need to hear you out and get on board).
If you’d like to create deeper emotional intimacy in your relationships but don’t know where to start, don’t worry… I’ve got you! Check out these emotional intimacy conversation starters and activities. You can use them in any relationship!
Communicating the Tough Stuff
Most of this probably sounds totally doable to you and you know it’s important. Rarely do we find it uncomfortable to share a fun childhood story or tell our significant other that we also want 2 kids. Where we often struggle is communicating the tougher stuff, the imperative stuff. Things you think may lead to conflict such as; giving difficult feedback, or communicating a boundary or need you feel may not be received well. We get so nervous about this whole thing that we may want to throw in the towel, but we don’t have to. So, let’s take a moment to take a closer look at a few strategies for communicating the tough stuff.
Write it Down
Writing down what it is you want to communicate before the conversation can be very helpful in building courage and creating clarity surrounding what matters most to you. This doesn’t mean hyper-vigilantly trying to guess the other person’s response. But it does mean having an idea what you’re going to say so you’re able to stay on point and create some “I” statements and bridge questions to help move the conversation forward.
The best place to do this writing is in a journal or notebook. You can even write a page or two venting any frustration or other challenging emotional stuff to make this process a little easier.
Remind yourself of any examples you can think of where this worked WITHOUT recalling those where it didn’t. if you’ve had challenging conversations in the past and they’ve been successful focusing your attention on them will help reassure you that this too will likely be ok. If you haven’t had that experience yet (it’s ok… we all have to start somewhere), think of a person you know who’s successfully done this, like a family member, or, you know… me. Even an example from a movie or tv show can be very reassuring in this moment. The world will not end because you’re having a tough conversation. It will for certain still go on. Reassure yourself that you can handle this, you are strong enough, and you deserve to be heard.
Approach it Positively
Go into the conversation giving the benefit of the doubt. Rather than approaching it with the expectation that there will be a fight, or you will be rejected or unsuccessful, go in expecting the best. Remind yourself of who this person is, that they genuinely care about you, and you have every reason to believe this will go well. A positive attitude helps set the tone for productive communication because it takes the edge off and minimizes feelings of defensiveness.
Do not apologize up front for having needs, setting boundaries, or initiating an uncomfortable conversation. You have absolutely nothing to apologize for. You’re doing the relationship and the other person a HUGE favor. You’re showing them that you trust them and want to build deeper connection. This is nothing to apologize for. Starting a tough conversation with an apology just puts everyone on edge and makes the other person responsible for validating you or giving you permission for your needs right out of the gate and that just muddies the water.
That said… if you seriously did mess up, always apologize first. This no apologies rule only applies to false humility and apology not to having something you sincerely need to apologize for. In most cases, an apology needs to come before and separate from a conversation about your needs and stand alone so it is truly meaningful.
Whenever you have a challenging conversation with another person expressing gratitude can go a long way. I’ve learned to replace what used to be my opening apology during tough conversations with a statement of gratitude instead. So rather than saying “I’m sorry for sounding so needy, but…” I’ll say “I’m so grateful I can share my needs with you and trust you to hear me out”. I’m pretty sure you can see a very big difference in the tone and vibe of each of these statements and imagine how they would create different results. In addition, thanking a person at the end of the conversation can also help solidify any resolution you have come to, show faith in their desire to make any adjustments, deepen emotional intimacy, and set the stage for future challenging conversations to go smoother.
Communication is so important in every type of relationship but so often we just don’t know how to get started, especially if we’ve never seen it done well. I totally get that but with these practical and easy to use communication tools you can create deeper intimacy and connection and communicate what you need in all types of relationships. You aren’t alone in struggling with this facet of relationships and you don’t have to be alone either. Take it from someone who’s tried it all. Communications matters, in fact, it’s a MUST. And even if you’ve struggled in the past, you’ve now been empowered to become an awesome communicator so you can create happy, healthy relationships too! So, take down those walls and stop tiptoeing around that tough conversation. Get started today!
Share a great communication outcome in the comments to help reassure others just setting out on this journey!