Let’s cut out some of the noise on relationship advice. Love and connection is not about hard work. It is about communication, affection, kindfulness (yes, kindfulness- it’s not a typo), and energy. All those lifehacks, lists and advice from friends can be simplified into one of these 4 ideas. When we understand and navigate relationships with these big picture ideas, we can avoid getting bogged down in too many details and getting stuck on where to start. This helps us be ourselves in our relationship growth, which helps us to be connected.
To keep things simple, we will start by tackling the idea of communication. Here’s our big ideas on communication:
One, communication is simply the action of sending and receiving messages between you and your partner. We don’t have 100% control over how our messages get received. How we send our messages and our willingness to receive them kindly does matter.
Two, our actions and body language send messages too- sometimes even more strongly than our words. This means that we can accidentally send a message with our body before our mouth.
Three, being curious in communication can make it collaborative rather than adversarial. That’s a ‘hurray’ because teamwork makes the dream work (total cheese… but true).
How exciting is it to think that communication is as simple as just sending and receiving messages? This means that ‘good’ communication is really as simple as two people being successful at getting each other’s messages and sending something back that is equally as well received. By ‘well received’, I mean understood and accepted. But how do we do that? Surprisingly, a lot of people already know how they like to receive their messages and can probably tell you about (if you asked). Some people want a message that is short and clear. These partners don’t necessarily need all the softening words or added examples (at least not right away). Other people are totally opposite and would like all the appropriate ‘therapy’ words to be used and delivered with a neutral, understanding voice and supporting examples. And there is also everyone is between. Remember that no one is perfect and picking just one small change at a time works best. So, step one to boosting communication is asking each other what works best for exchanging messages and what could be tweaked.
Besides our actual spoken words, it can be surprising how much more powerful our actions and body language can sometimes speak for us. Our body language can play a big part in how our messages are interpreted. For example, if you and your love are trying to solve a problem and one of you gives a suggestion, if the other one rolls their eyes before they use their words, the message that the suggestion is lame has already been delivered. Any words after this are now being received through the lens of ‘your idea is lame’. That does not set the stage for open minds or hearts or collaboration. So, let’s set the stage by choosing and using our most kindful (kind and mindful) body language. For some couples, this could be standing in a hug or sitting openly and relaxed towards each other or making eye contact over the dinner table. If you’re not sure what your kindful body language might be, think of what your body does when you’re sharing messages about exciting news or telling your partner how much you love them. These are times that you are just naturally being present and openhearted (that’s being kindful). So, step two to boosting communication is being aware of our body language and trying out some kindful body postures.
An often overlooked piece to successfully exchanging our messages with each other is curiosity! When we first start getting romantic with someone curiosity fuels us to chat with them, ask them questions, or even spend time with them in their daily routines. We want to know this person! Then for some weird reason, we eventually start to think that we do know that person and we lose our curiosity. But everyone has new thoughts and experiences and is an ever-growing human being. This means that instead of assuming that we know 100% what our partner’s ideas and responses are to everything, let’s be curious about what they could be. Let’s ask questions that are curious rather than leading. Let’s receive their message with curious ears that are actually listening instead of just assuming and jumping ahead. Being curious about their opinions and ideas is like brainstorming in groupwork, we are just getting ideas out there and expanding on them together- there’s no right or wrong ideas. Together you can sort through them. Together you can be curious about each possibility. This takes away the adversarial nature that one person’s idea was the right one or won in the problem solving. If there is a communication ‘winner’ in the relationship, then there is a loser and since no one wants to be the loser there must be a fight to find the winner. Love is a collaborative game not a competitive one. So, step three in boosting your communication is being curious about each other.
Remember, if how you are exchanging messages together needs some tweaking or changing, that is growth. No one is wrong. Trying to adjust and collaborate together is the big picture key to communication. Little tweaks along the way lead to better and more fulfilling communication the longer your relationship grows.