Every couple goes through rough patches, which is why solid communication is so vital — without it, you’ll never make it through to the good side again. Nothing should be off-limits when it comes to what you discuss with your partner, so if you can’t talk to him about these things, you’re in an unhealthy relationship.
- What you want in bed As your mom has probably said at some point, “If you can’t talk about sex, you shouldn’t be having it.” Sex is supposed to be enjoyable, and for that to happen, you’re probably going to have to figure out what you like and ask for it. If he can’t handle hearing that his foreplay strategy leaves a little to be desired, he’s never going to be good in bed — better you know now.
- How you really feel about his friends and family Not that you should be bashing all his friends as soon as they’re out of earshot or anything, but if he’s expecting you to be besties with all his buddies and you just aren’t feeling it with a couple of them, it’s okay to say so. Just be prepared that he might not be your college roommate’s biggest fan either.
- Your career goals Your job is a big part of your life, and you should be able to talk about that with the guy you’re dating. He should support you when there are setbacks and encourage you to keep following your dreams, and you should do the same for him. How can you support each other if you can’t even talk about what’s going on at work — the good and the bad?
- Small, everyday annoyances Does he always throw his wet towel on your freshly made bed? Does it seem like no one ever taught him to put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder? These things aren’t exactly dealbreakers for your relationship, but they’re still kind of annoying. You should be able to mention this stuff without feeling like you’re being a naggy mother figure. It’s all in the delivery.
- Where you see your relationship going For a relationship to work, both people need to want it to work. That means talking honestly about what you want, even if it means bringing up uncomfortable topics. There’s no point in being with someone who doesn’t want what you want, and the best way to figure that out is to talk about it.
- Your finances Early on in a relationship, you most likely keep your bank account balance to yourself. But as time goes on, you’ll start to learn more about each other’s spending habits. If you decide to move in together, it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. If you can’t talk to each other about bills in the good times, what will happen if you have a financial crisis? You don’t want to be one of the many couples that break up over money.
- Your past and how it has affected you Everyone has baggage, whether it’s past relationships that left you a little damaged, family issues that you can’t seem to overcome, or health problems that are still affecting you now. You owe it to your partner (and yourself) to be honest about the things that have made you who you are because if you can’t talk to the person you love about that stuff, who can you talk to?
- Your bad day Sometimes you just need to vent about your horrible work frenemy or how much your sister frustrates you. You don’t want him to think you’re awful mood is because of something he did, because that’s a slippery slope.
- The things you’re afraid of Sometimes it helps to talk about your fears out loud. If you’re afraid of commitment, the right guy could help you get over that. If you’re terrified of heights, he’ll understand when you don’t want to go skydiving with him. Whatever it is, it’s part of who you are — and if he cares about you, he’ll want to know about it.
- How to resolve arguments Every couple fights — it’s how you resolve those fights that really matters. If you can’t talk to him about why you’re angry, then you can’t expect him to know. If he brushes off your anger, eventually it’s going to build up and be a lot worse than it needed to be.
How to foster better communication in an unhealthy relationship
Without communication, your unhealthy relationship is sure to die. “Communication is important because it fosters trust and connection,” explains Shelley Sommerfeldt, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships. “In order to have an open, honest, and vulnerable relationship with our partner, we must be able to freely communicate in a healthy manner.” Here are some things you can do to improve the situation and get on the right track.
- Consider your feelings before bringing them to your partner. If you’re feeling any sort of extreme emotion, it’s always better to take a bit of time to bring yourself down to a more even keel before unloading. As Sommerfeldt explains: “If we go into a conversation feeling very angry, upset or too emotional, then the communication tends to become too heated and difficult to find resolution.”
- Understand that listening is just as important as being heard. While you might have a lot to say and feel desperate to get your point across, make sure you also give your partner ample time to speak. “Many couples enter conversations as though they are debates or arguments that they must win,” Sommerfeldt says. If you understand that communication is a two-way street, you’re more likely to leave the conversation feeling content.
- Take time to check in. No matter how busy things get or what else is going on, checking in with your partner a few times a day is a great way to break unhealthy patterns in your relationship. “This would include taking what I call your mood temperature. If you’re in a bad mood, you want your partner to know before you explode,” advises Cali Estes, Ph.D. You can even use a scale of 1 to 10 to let each other know how you’re feeling.
- Avoid giving the silent treatment. It should go without saying that this is not only immature but a completely inappropriate way to deal with conflict. “People often adopt the silent treatment thinking it’s setting boundaries,” says licensed therapist, Jor-El Caraballo, “but boundaries work best when communicated explicitly with a partner, otherwise they may not realize they’ve crossed one.” Communicate your feelings to your partner verbally, even if they’re negative, and your relationship will fare much better.
- Identify your communication styles. Just as there are different love languages, there are also different communication styles, and yours and your partners may not be the same. As dating expert Tony Robbins explains: “Communication and relationships are all different. Effective communication with your partner will come from acknowledging this. Your partner can be telling you exactly what they need, but you have to be cognizant of how they convey this information to you. If there’s miscommunication, you’ll miss the opportunity to build trust and intimacy, and you’ll both feel frustrated.”
- Don’t make assumptions. You may think that because you’ve been with your partner for a long time or because you’ve been in similar situations before, you know what they’re thinking. That’s not the case, and assuming otherwise can cause major problems. “Assumptions and mind-reading usually lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings,” Sameera Sullivan, psychologist and founder of Lasting Connections, tells Bustle.
- Always respond when your partner wants your attention. Communication doesn’t always have to be verbal. There are many little ways we try to convey certain messages to the people in our lives when we’re not even speaking aloud. “Couples try to get each other’s attention throughout the day, whether it’s for support, conversation, interest, play, affirmation, feeling connected or for affection,” says relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala. “Each of these moments is an opportunity to connect with your partner. A person should look for someone who responds to them, or at least acknowledges them when they try to get their attention, because it shows that they are meeting your emotional needs — or at least trying to.”