Have you noticed a difference in your communication with your partner over these last several months? Maybe being around each other more often has led to greater opportunities for discussing both positive and negative aspects of your relationship, selves, and life goals. Productive Communication is essential for any relationship – but when faced with something like, say, a pandemic, your ability to communicate through the current change could ultimately make or break your relationship.
As an online marriage counselor and relationship coach, I have been working with my couples clients lately around productive communication in stressful times. Not only are many of my couples clients experiencing a new kind of stress in their individual lives (careers, goals, hobbies, friendships), but they are also experiencing a new type of stress in their partnerships.
It’s not uncommon for couples to experience an uptick in stress when what felt like a relatively regular routine gets flipped on its side…we can probably all relate to this, right? When your entire life changes (working from home, transitioning to a new way of managing your day-to-day tasks, spending more family time, even homeschooling for many families), your relationship can feel like it’s on the backburner. In doing so, new anxiety, confusion, and stress can be brought to the surface surrounding you and your partner.
I first want to tell you; you are not alone. We are all in this same boat together. It’s difficult enough to manage a regular life, relationship, and family structure but throw in constant change and the unknowing of tomorrow, and you have a whole new stress-mess to work through that can feel overwhelming and often lonely.
Today I want to share three practical tips for productive communication with you when you and your partner are both stressed and ultimately doing the best you can!
#1 Name It: Call it what it is…
The first tip is to acknowledge to yourself and your partner that you are stressed. Life has recently thrown many things at us, and it is very common to go into problem-solving mode. We are wired to prioritize our responsibilities first and think of ourselves last. You may feel the need to be strong for everyone around you, or it can be hard to admit when things get to you. Take some time every day to check in with yourself. Name your feelings, tell your partner what they are.
A quick way to do this is to identify your stress level on a scale, say from 1 to 5. This allows you both to be aware that your stress may be impacting how you interact with one another. It is also essential to be aware when you need additional support and skills to deal with your stress.
If you find that your stress is consistently interfering with daily responsibilities or changing the way you see yourself and your partner, seeking an individual or couples counselor can do wonders. Take advantage of the increasing flexibility and availability of online counseling to get quick and direct support.
Now more than ever, it is crucial that you increase your ability to manage stress. If we don’t acknowledge how we are doing, it is easy for us to take things personally. This can turn us away from one another when we need the support of each other the most.
#2 Give The Conversation A Purpose
The next tip is about coming to the conversations you have with a specific purpose. Before you begin talking about a difficult topic or when stress is at its highest, think about what you want to get out of the conversation. Are you looking for space to vent about what is going on? Would you like your partner to give you their advice or opinion about something? Maybe you need reassurance and encouragement.
If you give the conversation a specific purpose and relay that to each other beforehand, you will have a better chance of being understood. Your partner also has a better idea of what they can do to contribute productively to the conversation. Stress can make it difficult to know how to help each other, and having a specific purpose will keep you both connected and on the same page.
#3 Stay On One Topic At A Time
When stress creeps in, there can be a rush of thoughts and emotions that overwhelm you. Your mind could be running a mile a minute. This has a way of interfering with how we communicate.
Have you ever started talking about one thing, and then you are on a totally different topic a few minutes later? That is usually because our emotions have taken over the conversation, and we are now focusing on them instead of the issue at hand.
If you find that your conversations are bouncing from topic to topic, try to catch each distraction and redirect back to the original topic and purpose. You may say something like, ‘I noticed we have gotten off track, let’s refocus.’ Then go back to the original topic. This can slow down the pace of the conversation and help you resolve one thing at a time.
Practice Productive Communication
It’s true; you’re not going to have this figured out after one conversation (not even one really productive conversation) because the truth is, it takes time. You and your partner may have to work a little extra to create the time that you both need for productive communication. However, with practice and persistence, what can feel like an overwhelming or confusing conversation can ultimately start to grow into another beautiful chapter of your life.
Here’s to productive communication!
Teresa Thomas, M.A., AP