TLDR: Communication is an art. A necessary art that is an essential function of relationships. In this post we go over how to communicate with your partner whether you’re miles apart or in the same bed. Learn how to avoid fighting, how to apologize, and how to bring you and your partner closer together simply through communicative arts.
Table of Contents:
The “I”s Have It
Usually we think it’s best if we put our partner’s first and make sure their needs are being met.
We want our partner to know how much they mean to us and that we have their best interests at heart. And we usually expect, through our cultural expectations of relationships, that our partner’s will put us first. This mutual exchange means we are both looked after while trying to be selfless and take care of our partner.
But in communication it is far and away much better to focus on “I”…at least when it comes to working our way through confrontation and anger.
Let me explain.
I’m sure many of you have heard how it’s better to say “I feel…” rather than “You are…” and we know why.
Saying “I” focuses on us and refrains from pushing blame on our partner.
Rather than accusing our partner of something we perceive that they are, or that they are doing to us, we are shifting the responsibility on ourselves for our feelings.
It also evokes empathy. We naturally don’t want our partner’s to feel sad. Learning about how our partner’s feel, without feeling like we are being blamed, opens our hearts to listening with a desire to fix what’s hurting our partner.
Even when you’re thinking about something your partner did that angered you. Let’s say he/she didn’t text you all day despite the many texts you sent them.
Instead of getting worked up about all of our expectations and perceptions we take a step back.
This is what I do (steps from nonviolentcommuncation.com):
- Observe: what do I observe about things that happen outside of my own evaluations? What helps me and doesn’t help me?
- Analyze feelings: observe emotions rather than thoughts and think about their connection to what I observe.
- Analyze needs: what are my values or needs that aren’t being met? What’s underneath the immediate emotion? Most emotions are aroused because some need is not being met and the emotion is alerting us to that deficiency.
- Make a request: what are the actions that need to be taken to have my needs met.
- In all this script ends up looking like this: “When I see or hear this…I feel…for I value and need…and would you be able/willing to help…”
I find these steps in communication extremely valuable.
It takes me outside my immediate emotions of anger or hurt and helps me analyze why I feel the way I do. Most of the time I come to realize my husband isn’t trying to hurt me, I’m simply experiencing a lack of a need being met.
All I have to do is peacefully bring up how I feel when x happens, what need is attached to it, and then figure out how meet these needs as a team.
Find the “I” in team with non-violent communication.
Fights happen and sometimes they happen a lot more than they should.
And dare I be so bold as to say that fights might not need to happen at all if we master communication.
There’s your feelings…then there’s the problem.
Maybe your significant other forgot to do the laundry. That’s the problem or situation.
Your feelings are maybe the disappointment or anger at having to remind them all the time. Maybe you feel disrespected or like your partner just doesn’t care about how you feel or all you do or on and on…
The thing is, there is reality, and there is your interpretation of that reality.
And it is totally within your power to change how you respond to an event.
Sometimes that’s hard to do when you have strong emotions raging through your veins.
So first things first. Take care of your emotions before you talk to your partner.
If you start to fight or feel yourself getting heated, excuse yourself for a while until you can be level again. Go for a walk or rock out to some loud music. Whatever it is that calms you, don’t come back until you’re good to go again.
It’s generally a good idea to understand how you and your partner respond to anger and what’s the best way for either of you to handle it. If you discuss and decide what’s to be done before hand, you hopefully won’t have your significant other upset with you because you left for a walk.
Also, exiting somewhat gracefully is still important. While you’re trying to get out of there as fast as you can, your partner can still be hurt by your reaction. Make sure to respond to them respectfully and tell them that you’re going for a walk for a while and that you can talk when you’re back. Don’t just storm out with a ‘see ya!’.
Once you’ve had time to yourself, process your feelings. Let them rage for a bit, accept them for what they are, thank them for teaching you about your needs, then figure out what those needs are in a logical sense.
Maybe it’s ‘I need my partner to pull their weight,’ ‘I need to feel more appreciated,’ or maybe it’s even ‘I just really need to be taken out on a date.’ It can be pretty surprising to find what logic or need hides under strong emotions. Take the time to figure out what they are and how to express them in a non-violent way to your partner.
Dealing with the problem
If after chilling out you still have a problem and it needs to be worked out, then approach your partner with a time to work it out. It might be right then or tomorrow evening. It just depends on both of your levels of calm and how ready either of you are to talk it out.
Respect your partner and give them space and time to talk, but also realize that if they’re putting you off that’s not ok either.
There are several ways communication and understanding can go when you’re working with two different people who have different styles of talking, different ways of discussing and arguing, and different ways of approaching the same problem.
If you don’t know why your spouse got so hurt about something you said, don’t tell them their feelings are wrong. How they feel is how they feel. Instead, acknowledge their pain and tell them you will try harder in the future to communicate better. Talk about how things can be managed better in the future.
So if the way you asked about the dishes came out much more aggressive sounding to your partner (whether you meant it that way or not), just apologize and validate them by asking how you could better ask or talk about the issues in a more peaceful way in the future. This does take practice in swallowing your pride and not sounding sarcastic.
Again, it’s a good idea to use “I feel” statements rather than “You…” statements.
Because when you use “I feel” statements then you’re not blaming your partner, you’re taking responsibility for your feelings and that those feelings might not be totally correct all the time, and you’re asking for compassion from your partner rather than throwing anger at them.
Stay away from attacking language that places blame on your partner. This will only put them on the defensive and it is much harder to have a meaningful conversation when both of you have your fists up.
Remember that your spouse is your teammate and best friend. At the end of the day you’re on the same team, you want each other to succeed, and you love each other deeply. It’s easy to forget that in the heat of the moment so avoid fights by being able to walk away, and being able to swallow your pride and be the first to apologize.
Every apology has four main parts: 1) remorse for your actions, 2) acknowledging the hurt and damage what you said/did caused, 3) offering your apology humbly and without expectations of getting an apology in return or having your apology accepted, 4) restoration and making amends.
Apologizing means you recognize hurt you caused and inappropriate behavior. You are taking responsibility for your actions. It means validating the other person’s feelings and allowing you both to move on and heal.
Sometimes the hardest times to apologize are when we don’t feel we are wrong!
I look at it as I’m always sorry if I hurt someone’s feelings—especially my partner’s. So even if I never meant to make them feel a certain way (maybe I feel like they are being a little sensitive), I still hate that I hurt them. I still want to apologize and help us repair.
So if they’re hurt, I take their word for it and I apologize.
Remorse means you experience sadness for causing hurt feelings and your wrongful actions.
It’s good to express your remorse and explicitly state the things you did wrong. This lets the person know you understand their side and it makes them feel heard. Plus, sincere remorse leaves little room for pride and continued fighting.
This flows from expressing remorse. Being able to state the things you did wrong can be very powerful in healing. It’s the moment when you take responsibility for any wrongdoing.
Apologies can pave the way for peace and communication. It’s always best to apologize first and often.
Of course your apologies should maintain sincerity so don’t let saying sorry too often make your apologies shallow. Also be sincere in your apologies and make a valiant effort to never do the problem again. Otherwise it just seems like your apologies are insincere and that can really hurt your trust-building with your spouse.
Apologize Without Expectations
Naturally we want our spouse to apologize to us when we feel we have been wronged.
If we apologize then they darn well better too, right?
Well that’s not the best attitude to take to your apology table.
The goal is to apologize without expecting an apology in return. Apologize for your own peace of mind. Forgiveness and apologies by far help you out more than they help out others. It frees up your mind, helps you feel better about yourself and actions, and it allows you to move on.
Don’t assume or expect your apologies to be taken graciously either. If your partner isn’t ready to forgive and move on then that’s where they’re at right now. Their anger only hurts them and it doesn’t need to keep hurting you.
Just sincerely apologize, let other people be their own agents, and then move on and heal!
Restoration and Mending
After you’ve done all your steps, you are ready to move forward.
Of course if we just went back to doing what we apologized for then our apologies are going to seem superfluous and our relationship will struggle for it.
This doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect. You might mess up again. But you and your spouse will know if you’ve been working hard at it and changing.
So don’t beat yourself up. And don’t beat your spouse up if they’re the one trying to change.
Love is one of the best ways to help facilitate healing and growth.
Forgiving your partner is essential to healing.
Some things might take more time and effort to get over. Some issues are deal breakers and you both might come to the realization that the relationship isn’t working anymore.
However your partner acts and however your relationship goes, always forgive.
Forgive for yourself.
Holding onto anger and pain is only hurting you. The best thing you could do for yourself is move on with a clean slate and open mind and heart.
Close the Emotional Gap
In any relationship, and marriage in particular, distance happens. Not physical distance necessarily (though that may be a part of the problem) but emotional distance.
In fact, this distance has caused what is known as emotional cheating or having an emotional affair. This is basically when you cross emotional and trust boundaries with another person outside of your relationship. Maybe you over-confide in them while holding back info from your partner. Maybe you share more intimacy with this outside person than with your partner.
I had a friend that slipped into this trap and she says she thinks it took just as much work to recover from in her marriage as actual infidelity would have. In her own words, emotional infidelity is no joke.
Distance happens naturally in relationships. It’s bound to happen. So closing the emotional gap when it rears its head is key in preventing the gap from opening into something more serious.
Ongoing conflict, circumstantial stress, fear of vulnerability, past hurt, attachment styles, and nurture all play a part in communication with spouses (or significant others) and with this emotional distancing.
Conflict and Stress
Being able to avoid fighting and instead talk out issues calmly and lovingly (as discussed above) can be a great way to start to heal an emotional gap.
I know sometimes problems build up in my marriage and me and my husband tend to stay quiet, each thinking the other really ought to own up to how crappy they are acting and just apologize. But when we come together, set a time aside to lovingly discuss and open ourselves in a safe zone, it is amazing how much healing takes place.
Really, we all just want to be loved and understood. Feeling like my feelings and thoughts are understood and that my spouse cares about them and wants to work on it with me does a lot to heal that emotional distance that conflict can cause.
Successful situations using validation and understanding, and above all, humility, results in feelings safer and even more success next time we talk. It builds and gets better as you go!
Hurt, Attachment Styles, and Nurture
We have different attachment styles based on our nurture/upbringing.
My husband tends to need more support and has a stronger attachment whereas for a long time I was more avoidant. I was more afraid of vulnerability. I shied away from emotional openness. Rarely would I admit that I needed someone else.
Our attachment styles clashed for a while. We both wanted something fulfilled by the other. Perhaps something lacking in our upbringing. It took an understanding of some psychology and some couples therapy to figure out how to express our needs to each other and learn how to help meet each other needs without giving up things important to us.
I had hurt my husband with my avoidant style. We had to work through some of his trust issues because of how he perceived my actions. Of course I had never tried to hurt him or create those issues, but they happened organically from my actions that had been instilled in me from a young age.
I had to relearn a healthier attachment style and how to better meet my husband’s needs. My husband had to learn how to respect my need for personal space. He had to work with my personality and needs and not take my personality as personally.
This takes a lot of understanding, a willingness to change, compassion, and empathy. And after my husband and I could put into words what we were feelings, after we understood ourselves and then each other, we were much better at communicating and the gaps in our emotional intimacy closed.
When you have a deep cut on your finger, you can watch your skin slowly heal itself. The bleeding stops, the skin starts to grow back, and the wound closes.
In a similar fashion, emotional distance heals slowly and with constant effort.
Figure out how you and your partner give and receive love and make a conscious effort to make those things happen.
Maybe one of you needs a steady date night or more quality time. Maybe the other needs to feel more verbally valued or maybe they like little gifts here and there. Remember your love language is probably different from your partner’s so you have to be flexible in learning how your partner receives love and make sure they are receiving it.
And remember to be patient with both of you. You are learning and growing together. Perfection isn’t going to happen. Focus on the positive and be grateful!
Expressing gratitude and reminding yourself of all the good things your partner does is an amazing way to improve negativity and help your relationship heal.
Make lots of time to reconnect and heal with your partner. Work on opening yourself up and building emotional trust and honesty again. Before you know it, you will start feeling lighter and you will feel the romance and love return.
Managing Long Distance Relationships
This one can be a doozey.
It’s a very rare couple that can feel totally fine and not experience any hiccups caused by long distances.
I personally don’t know of any, but I’ll just say it’s rare in case there are some.
A lot of times you will have a partner that is more okay with the distance, with doing their own things. And the other partner may get grouchier with the distance.
Maybe both partners get grouchy with the distance and that increases tension. Maybe both partners feel fine with the distance and they struggle to really reconnect and will lose intimacy with the distance.
Whatever you and your partner’s personalities are…there are bound to be some struggles when you can’t see and read each other by being nearby and having that intimacy.
When my husband travels, I have to figure out how to stay close, even when we are physically far apart.
Make time to connect
This is a big deal.
Whether you and your partner need a lot or you don’t, you do definitely need to connect.
Connection and intimacy helps us nourish vulnerability and trust with our partner. Creating memories that increase good, mutual feelings help us through times when we perhaps feel less loved or when things are going less than good.
If I allow emotional distance to gather with physical distance, I will often start to think I feel differently about my spouse. Little things like if they text too much or don’t text enough start to weigh on me a lot more than they ever normally would.
It’s hard to remember that a lot of the irritability and loss of patience comes from simply missing them.
It’s too easy to blame your partner when the little things pile up if you don’t have enough intimacy built up.
So make time to spend together!
Connection Ideas (PG rated, you’ll have to be creative on the rest):
- Do a Skype movie date. Pick a movie you want to watch, face time or call each other on Skype and watch it together. My husband and I do this with our favorite TV shows and watch episodes together. We are able to talk about our theories and make the comments we normally do during our shows. We’d talk about how happened in the episode after and build intimacy talking face to face for a while. Doing this every few days worked well for us!
- Send intimate texts. Like I said, I’ll let you do the creative building on this stuff, but sometimes that physicality will slide over distance. Create space to seduce, intrigue, and let your partner know you’re missing them. Make time for sexy time—phone, Skype, text—however you and your partner like to do that best over distance.
- Call at least once a day. My husband and I like to talk right before bed and just catch up on our day. Sometimes the call is 10 minutes. Sometimes it’s a couple hours. We don’t put expectations or limitations on it. We just take time to catch up on each other’s lives and listen.
- Focus on your partner. And they should focus on you. Take care of each other. When your partner is telling you about their day, listen deeply. When they are trying to communicate something they need from you, listen deeply. Actively ask questions about their day and focus on their needs. This will make them feel cared about and more likely to open up.
- Take pictures. I like to take everyday pictures and send them to my hubby either via Snap Chat or text. They aren’t pictures I would necessarily share with anyone else. Some would just seem insignificant to most people. But sharing pictures with my husband of the weird car, the caterpillar on the sidewalk, the kids doing their activities, and so on let’s my husband know I’m thinking of him, want him involved, and it keeps him in the loop.
- Play games with phone apps. My husband and I really love Words With Friends and trivia games. This is a great way to feel connected throughout the day while having fun and without heavy time or response expectations.
Don’t overdo it
It can be tempting to be possessive or jealous of your partner’s time. It’s easy to pile expectations on them over how much they should talk to you, when they should text you, and how often they should do both.
In reality it’s best not to overdo it.
You do not need to compensate for the distance by talking more. Doing so can just tire out both of you and the relationship.
Accept your partner’s efforts and be happy and in the moment when you have time together.
Don’t play power games over who hurts less or more or who misses who more. Trust your partner. Believe them when they say you miss you and accept the things they do for you. You’re going to do better in different departments and that’s what creates balance. Allow the natural flow of the relationship to sweep you along.
Managing long distance is about a delicate balance between fulfilling needs and leaving your partner wanting more.
A loose grip is the best grip to have on love.
Managing long distance requires a lot of patience. Your partner may not be able to respond or talk when you want them to. They may not be able to do your Skype date all the time because they have to work instead. They may become annoyed more easily because they’re missing you and dislike the distance.
Again, be patient.
Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best of them. Accept and believe they want to spend time with you and will when they can.
This takes a lot of patience and trust. It takes overcoming your self-doubt and maintaining positivity.
If you have an issue with something, then set some time aside to talk about it with your partner using “I feel” statements. Don’t be aggressive or unkind as that will only increase distance with tension.
It’s a lot harder to make up all the way over distance so try to avoid fighting all together.
Swallow your pride and apologize quickly.
Follow the same tips in avoiding fighting as listed above. They all work over the phone too. If you can’t be nice, tell your partner you will talk to them later (give them a time). This will keep things cool and level.
Let the little things go. They are not worth your ego or the tension with your partner.
Distance can be a great way to remind yourself how to fulfill you!
And if you never learned how, this is a great time to start!
Distance means you don’t have to compromise on what to eat, what to watch, or if you’re going to go out this weekend or not. It means you get more time to yourself and doing things that you particularly like and enjoy.
Learn to be in your moment and fulfill your life. Enjoy your time with your friends and family. I love, love, love how much my schedule opens up for other relationships during distance times. Yes, I miss my husband like crazy but the bonding that I get with my family and friends is so much fun.
I also love reconnecting with myself. Go on a spontaneous adventure.
Reawaken to yourself again.
Take yourself on some awesome dates
When you and your partner reconnect for the long haul again your relationship will be that much better for just having fallen in love with and honoring yourself.
No relationship is ever perfect. At one point or another, one or both of you will feel frustrated and upset. That is the nature of human interaction. Any time you two separate people regularly interact, there will be discrepancies. We have different backgrounds. We all communicate differently. But as long as you are both willing to listen and be humble enough to understand each other, proper communication will avail and you will build something beautiful and strong. Your relationship is only as good as your communication.