Learn how communicating effectively in your relationship is so so so important.
7 out of 10 times misunderstandings arise because we don’t understand each other, though we speak the same language. This chapter looks at ways you can make your communication more fun and interesting. Words are very powerful. They can incite anger or invoke passion. They can bring people together or tear them apart. Being mindful about our words and using them to aid instead is a good skill to master to make our relationships more interesting.
He doesn’t even understand me.
Whenever I talk he pretends to fall asleep.
He gets so defensive when I talk about finances.
My boyfriend has selective hearing he only hears what he wants to listen to.
She just needs something to argue about.
Do all these statements sound familiar? They reflect poor communication, misunderstandings and judgements thus leading to frustration and hostility, shouting matches and power struggles. Thus if we can work on communicating well and effectively, we can definitely stop the ill feelings from building up. Communication is and will always be the most crucial element of fun relationships. Before we even talk about having fun communication patterns, we need to make sure we are following the rules of healthy communication.
4.1 Clear and respectful communication
Communication should always be clear. Clear precise communication facilitates decision making while ambiguity and flakiness makes things stressful. It is funny to see how people get wishy washy when they express their thoughts and desires to their partners. Some say it without understanding, very vaguely, getting lost in translation, assuming their partner understands them.
Yassin and Melanie met on tinder and had a very fun first date. The next time Yassin wanted to ask Melanie to meet him. This is how the conversation went.
Yassin : Hey hi. How are you
Melanie: I’m fine.
Yassin: What are you doing?
Melanie: Nothing much. What’s up?
Yassin: Oh nothing too. Just a bit bored.
Melanie: Uh-huh and…?
Yassin: And nothing…you enjoy your day.
Melanie: I sure will.
Yassin wanted to invite Melanie on another date – he could have simply asked her instead of saying he was bored. Melanie took his “being bored” as “So I’m the boredom buster, you bastard!” And they never met again. It is really simple to say what you want yet many people can’t do that. Another client of mine Nora liked Fahim tremendously but she never dared tell him openly. She gave numerous hints and he didn’t take it. I advise my clients to be open and clear about what they want in their relationship. If Yassin wanted to meet Melanie again he should have simply asked her. If she said no, then so be it – at least there will be clarity in the situation. Often times we get so caught up with being defensive, simply because we are afraid of rejection or fearful of what our words might mean to someone else.
4.2 Communicate your needs
It was Ness’s 40th and her husband Zamar asked her if she wanted to have a celebration. She said “ I don’t enjoy birthday celebrations, I’ve told you that before. Why do you want to take all the trouble?” Zamar did nothing special for her and only got her a bunch of flowers. As you might have guessed, Ness was utterly upset and disappointed and when she came in for a session with me, she shared she felt betrayed and uncared for. “ He should have surprised me, I love surprises. It was a milestone birthday.”
Ness could have simply said she wanted a birthday party outrightly to Zamar or suggested she wanted to be surprised. When we assume our partners will understand us, we are mistaken. They aren’t psychic and can’t read your mind. So please tell them what you want and how you want it. It makes things so much more clearer and simpler.
I have encountered many such cases in my work with my clients. To keep things healthy and fun in your relationship you need to communicate your needs to your partner. Personal doubts and fears can lead to skewed messages, thus making communication vague and misleading. Ness’s ambiguous statement triggered a huge fight on her birthday. The problem lied in the words she used, not in what she said. In an attempt to not sound greedy or needy, she didn’t say what she really wanted – a birthday party as time it was a milestone birthday. Zamar misinterpreted her words and did as she wanted – nothing. Zamar thought he’d better listen as it is her birthday and he didn’t want to upset her by doing something she didn’t want. The obvious drawback of being indirect and not communicating what you truly want leads to misunderstandings. It would have been a wonderful birthday celebration for Ness if she only mentioned it and I am sure Zamar wanted to make it special for her. It ended up being the worst she ever had.
4.3 Clean communication
On Valentines, a new months later, Zamar was afraid to even ask Ness what she wanted to do. He plucked up some courage and asked her, “ Any idea what we should do for Valentines’ Day?” Ness said, “I’m not sure.” Zamar interpreted her answer as she didn’t want to do anything. (Obviously she did) He didn’t plan anything and once again Ness was disappointed in her husband. She began thinking, “He’s useless.” “ He never does anything special for me.” Zamar began thinking, “ She’s difficult to please.” Later when Zamar’s anger built to a high pitch, he told Ness she was a difficult woman to please. “ You are seriously behaving like a bitch now.” Ness considered his accusations unfair. She accused him of being useless and never doing anything special for her. When relationships are fun and healthy working on hints and talking in riddles is great and adds fun into the relationship. When the relationship is strained like in Ness and Zamar’s case hints promote more misunderstanding. Both become defensive and the misunderstandings worsen as they don’t wish to feel rejected or ridiculed. This defensiveness obscures their ability to communicate cleanly and they become abusive and use words to deliberately hurt their partners. Beneath the surface, there are deeper problems in Ness and Zamar’s relationship than simply their ambiguous and defensive ways of communication.
4.4 Deeper Demons
Ness always had a problem with her birthday. As a child her parents never made it special for her. She has hidden fears and insecurities about herself. Zamar didn’t know about this. He was simply listening verbatim to what she was saying and when she gets upset about things, he’s confused where he went wrong. Ness asserts her power in the relationship by giving him the silent treatment and making light of his efforts and gesture, inviting him to retaliate and become angry and verbally abusive.
Such patterns tax a relationship. Ness and Zamar love each other. In the early years of their marriage they spent hours talking to each other. However ambiguous communications have led to many misunderstandings, accusations and abusive language. Their shared power of conversation has gotten tainted and lost its power. Every small minor issue becomes a conflict and both decode each others messages wrongly.
4.5 Different communication styles
We all speak and talk differently – with different timing, pauses, intonation and pitch. Christine and Henry were one such couple. Christine always spoke fast and processed her thoughts quickly and Henry took a longer time. He always felt she interrupted him when he was talking and lost track of his train of thought. He felt she “undermined” him and always wanted to be first. Also she kept talking and talking to prove a point to an extent – it became a monologue. No points for guessing what happened next. Henry stopped listening. When Christine came to see me her major complaint was, “ Henry never listens when I talk.” In actual fact, Henry was listening but never gave her any feedback – no nodding, gesturing, changing his facial expression or saying words like hmmm, ok, then. He had also turned a dead ear to Christine, he heard what she was saying but didn’t mentally register it.
Understanding our partners are different and accommodating to their styles helps create healthy communication patterns. Henry’s lack of involvement was interpreted by Christine as his lack of care and concern. These subtle yet powerful aspects of communication can mar a relationship. Christine doesn’t share much with Henry anymore she feels he doesn’t care and isn’t interested and Henry doesn’t know how to probe or ask more as he feels she doesn’t want him to know. Both have become defensive and hypersensitive to each other. Their egos feel threatened. Their red and grey zones are being activated and they can’t feel the connection with one another anymore. Both feel rejected, hostile and disrespected. Understanding our partners are different, and being sensitive to that, can help reduce the frustration. Understanding the problem is the first thing and then applying a set of communication rules help. Christine should give Henry a chance to express his view and train herself to be more concise and deliberate with her words.
Instead Christine became more aggressive and constantly put Henry down and Henry was unable to tell Christine how hurt he felt. When he did sometimes voice out, Christine would call him a wimp and tell him to man up. When Christine and Henry came to see me, Henry was asking for a divorce. He was miserable and Christine was unaware of how much Henry felt undermined in the relationship. It is a shame that they didn’t seek help earlier or got a useful guidebook like this to help them learn how to communicate better. After one year of coaching, they are both happier in the relationship. Henry makes his likes and dislikes clear to Christine and Christine is very deliberate and careful with her opinions.
4.6 Edit yourself
Men and women are different when they communicate, women tend to talk more, ask more questions., show more interest, observe more and keep the conversation going. Men on the other hand like to talk minimal. They don’t really ask personal questions – questions represent intrusion and invasion of privacy. They also make no comments or give a delayed response to their partner’s statements. Men are more factual unlike women who are more feeling and love giving their opinions. Given such inherent differences, conflict is bound to arise. Always remember good communication is more than simply getting your ideas across. It is important to edit yourself and avoid saying every critical thought that pops into your head when discussing touchy topics. Christine makes it a point not to use words like wimp and avoids touchy topics which make Henry feel he’s lacking.
4.7 Speak about your inner and outer worlds
Relationships are all about sharing. It is about sharing the world you live in as well as sharing the world that lives within you. Tell your partner about your day at work and ask him about his dreams, hopes, ambitions, fears and worries. Invite him into your world and join his too. Opening up yourself in this way will not only revive the passion in your relationship, but will open up new layers of love. Henry and Christine started talking about their future plans. Henry wants to live in a farm and before, Christine, the city girl, used to laugh it off. Now she is more open to the idea of someday retiring somewhere quiet. She is beginning to understand Henry’s inner world and his need for a simple way of life. When we talk about our inner worlds and invite our partners in, we build a deeper sense of trust and fun in the relationship. Whilst talking with common friends one day, Christine said, “ Oh yeah you can come visit us on our farm!” And she winked at Henry mischievously. Having an intimate look at each others inner worlds builds a closer bond and Henry wasn’t even upset or defensive by what she said – in fact he simply winked back.
4.8 Having a secret language
Having a secret coded language helps build a close bond with each other. Adding funny-sounding words can bring a couple closer. Katrina and Sam (the couple from Chapter 1) used words like Bubu, Big head and Katz and even had special phrases. 143 meant I love you and 1437 meant I love you forever. They even had names for each other based on books they used to read- she used to call him Mr Darcy ( from Pride and Prejudice, one of their favourite movies) and Mr Christian Grey (from 50 shades, a favourite novel they both read together) and she was his Anna ( from Anna Karenina written by Leo Tolstoy) and his Lolita ( Vladimir Nabokov). Sometimes they just liked baby talk. They also had their own back language based on experiences they had and people they met. Once I read a text Katrina sent to Sam – I couldn’t understand a word, it was fully ‘Samrina’ language.
Regardless of the form it takes, these languages help build intimacy and fun in relationships . When couples have their own language they feel like they know one another in a way that others don’t. It builds a private connection and both feel part of a private world. A secret language adds playfulness to the relationship. You both have something to giggle about when there are boring gaps in your conversations. They may even be used to point out your partner’s flaws in a funny way that won’t make them defensive or angry.
4.9 Speak to the left eye
There is something very intimate about our eyes. They are the windows to the soul, and looking into each other’s eyes is a very powerful way of opening up and letting your partner in. Speak directly into your partner’s left eye. If you look into a person’s left eye, you connect to their emotional side, because that’s the side of the brain that processes emotion. Every word you will speak, while focusing on the left eye will have a different quality because you are stimulating an emotional side in your partner. Look at him in his left eye and say “I love you”. This will touch him directly in his heart.
4.10 Write to each other
As much as letters have become outdated, don’t you feel wonderful receiving a letter in your mailbox? I remember waiting for letters from my penpals when I was a kid – the sheer joy of ripping open the letter. It is a pity children these days will never experience this. How about writing a letter to your lover? Imagine how eventful that would be, and fun. It feels special to receive a special gift and wouldn’t you appreciate he took time to sit there and write to you rather than call or send a quick text? A hand-written letter is very personal and when you see someone’s unique handwriting, you can feel their presence, a piece of them is with you in that letter. Texting and emails are mostly reactionary. You need information, so you reach out. Writing letters is much more deliberate. You do it to give, not to receive. You write because there’s something you need to say, not something you need to know. And imagine receiving a lumpy mail. A lumpy mail is a letter with something inside – could be a lipstick, a pen, a feather, any little memento, an old movie ticket or simply a photograph of you. These small yet intimate gestures go a long way. Sadly, most people of this generation might never have written a letter to their partner at all and underestimate the power of love letters and overlook them as being cheesy. The hardest part is getting started, trust me. Once you start you will love the entire process and it will definitely make your relationship more exciting.
4.11 The next best option – email
The other option is to email each other and keep a virtual email address or love journal expressing your love, celebrating important milestones in your relationship and making the communication more deliberate than factual. You can express your feelings for your loved one without holding back from expressing freely as compared to one-liner texts or emojis. Since Sam and Katrina were in a long distance relationship, they wrote a lot to each other about how they felt. They wrote on their anniversaries, they logged their memories about their meetings and they came up with reasons why they loved each other. Katrina once wrote 365 reasons why she loved Sam. Sam was floored – such gestures take time but surely keep the relationship fun. They even had their own email account – firstname.lastname@example.org. They had more than 1000 emails exchanged and plan to one day write their book. At times they reminisce their good old days by reading their old emails and fall in love all over again.
4.12 Keep the text banter alive
Though letter and emails are more thoughtful and let you express more in a relationship, keeping the text banter alive is important too. Texting positive messages back and forth every day can significantly improve your relationship satisfaction. And I don’t mean “what do you want for dinner?” Dream up some compliments or ask him earnestly how his day went. This playful banter and flirting will definitely add the fun element into your relationship. Most people don’t realise the importance of playful banter in the relationship. This happens spontaneously in the beginning of most relationships but once the honeymoon phase is over and we aren’t trying to “impress each other anymore” we stop. As a result, the relationship loses the fun edge that’s needed to make it the best it can be. Once you stop the flirting, the relationship goes south. Remember flirting isn’t reserved for the early months in your relationship only.
A good morning and good night message is a must if you stay separately – to let your partner know you are in their thoughts and also to touch base with each other. Don’t wait for him to initiate. You can do it. If you keep waiting he will too, then you both simply keep waiting. Don’t let that expectation or ego come in between you and your partner. Be as outrageous as you can in your messages. Let your banter get super silly. Try to challenge yourself to see how insane and ridiculous your banter can get. Play silly text games together and see who can make the most ridiculous and hilarious comment. Get a bit naughty, let your freaky side out when you are having playful banter. Show him your naughty side. Just because it’s banter doesn’t mean it can’t be sexy and dirty. Use some dirty talk to get your partner in the mood while flirting. Send him sexy pictures to sexcite things up. I know all this might sound a tad ridiculous to you – “Hello, send a sext while working, are you crazy?” It keeps the fun alive in your relationship and you and your partner stay excited all day long. You have each other on the mind all day long and can’t wait to meet.
Sam and Katrina used their instant messenger accounts to pretend to be different people all the time – flirting unabashedly with each other. This secret account was full of banter and it was like role playing. Sometimes Katrina pretended to be a college student, at other times a waitress or even a social escort. Sam pretended to be her personal trainer, sometimes an FBI agent and sometimes her student. I know this sounds like a lot of effort and simply silly – it is not. It is really fun. Relationships are supposed to be silly and fun.
4.13 Phone and screen rules
Having said that, you do need to set some phone and screen rules. This is important when you are out for dinner or doing a specific activity together. Not being able to get through a single evening without being glued to your phone kills the romance. It is also quite insulting and disrespectful to your partner.
No you are not a child and I’m not lecturing you on screen time rules in your relationship. However keeping the phone away when you are together is a good rule to set so you give each other 100 percent. Most couples I have seen are half listening, walking around on dates with one foot planted firmly on Twitter or in conversations with someone else via text. This is called phubbing, signaling whatever is happening on the phone is more important and worthy of attention than the person in front of them. When phubbing happens regularly in a relationship, misunderstandings ensue. In the long run, phone addiction can do immense damage to the relationship. Thus setting screen rules is better than accusing your partner of being “glued” to his phone and demanding he puts his phone away. He might be waiting for a crucial message and might need to keep their phone nearby. That is fine and he needs to communicate this to you ahead of time. Also identify the difference between crucial and important. Does he really need to check his phone as soon as it alerts him? Can it wait for a few minutes until dinner is finished or a few hours until after your date night?”
Be mindful of each other’s presence. Really nothing is usually that urgent that you need to scroll through your social media accounts 100 times a day. Be there with each other whole heartedly. Setting device free days on Sunday is a good way to detox from social media. Set no phone zones in your bedroom, that will ensure you have each other 100 percent. Weaning off social media will be good not only for your relationship but for your mental health too. Have you wondered how simply lost we all are in that world? It dawned on me one day when I realised my screen time was 11 hours and half of it was spend on social media. I picked up my phone on average 104 times a day. Seriously! When I was conscious of this information ( iPhone has a screen time app to tell you this) I tried to reduce this. So try to reduce your screen time – it won’t just benefit your relationship but also your life!