It’s not what we say, but how we say it, right?
Well, yes, but it’s also when we say it that can make a difference.
In my coaching work with couples, I have developed a communication strategy that can actually help to resolve the majority of issues or problems that couples face.
Many times, arguments occur and we hear, “You didn’t tell me that,” or, “You don’t listen to me,” both of which are essentially saying the same thing: you or your partner doesn’t feel heard.
As humans, one of our basic needs is to feel like we are being heard and understood.
While not everyone that we meet in this life is meant to understand us, the reality is that verbal communication is the key to successful relationships. Oftentimes, it seems that we are so concerned about communicating in general that we often think we are expressing ourselves clearly just because we are talking.
The majority of arguments occur when one or both partners don’t feel heard. It really is that simple.
Often, we don’t fill one another in on plans, feelings, thoughts, or even expectations so when something arises we feel cornered, let down, and frustrated—and then lash out at our partners creating a bigger issue than is necessary.
And then, there are two issues to solve: communication and whatever triggered the problem in the first place.
Preemptive communication was an idea born out of thinking about communication strategies and how we go about handling life and our relationships.
Many times, it seems that we communicate offensively.
This means when phrases such as: “Oh I thought I told you I had to work late,” or, “I was just really tired and not in the mood to talk,” are communicated after the fact, they can become problematic. Both of these examples aren’t issues themselves, but can become issues when communicated too late.
It’s not that we need to report to our partner the way that we had to report to our parents as children, but it does mean that we have to remember to approach our partner as not just our lover, or even friend, but someone who we are sharing our lives with—which means we actually have to communicate with them.
With preemptive communication, we talk about issues before they actually become issues.
If we’re feeling quiet or needing space to think about or process something, we let our partners know. If we have a work engagement, get-together with friends, or something else—we simply let our partners know before we actually do it. We do this not because we need to ask permission, but because by letting them become aware of what is going on in our lives or schedules, we avoid arguments later on and establish a deeper level of intimacy.
Whenever I bring up the word “intimacy” with couples, men often assume I am talking about sex which then causes women to roll their eyes.
But, intimacy is more about who we are with our partner than the frequency in which we engage with them sexually. It’s also a double-sided truth because, while sex is an important part of intimacy, intimacy doesn’t always equal sex—which means this delicate connection between partners needs to first be established outside of the bedroom.
A big part of intimacy is feeling like we matter to our partners and that we are included in their day-to-day activities regardless of whether we live together or have a long-distance relationship. This means we have to make the choice to open up and discuss our plans, our feelings, and our needs with the idea that we are letting them into our lives.
In preemptive communication, we bring up tough issues before they have the chance to rear their ugly head. For example, we can say, “I found out my ex just got engaged, so I might be more quiet than normal,” or anything that we might want to avoid until it actually becomes necessary to discuss with our partners.
We don’t have to share every facet of our lives with our partners—quality over quantity is always best.
If you’re heading out of town for a bachelorette party and you know you won’t be as available to talk, then express that ahead of time. If you have a class reunion coming up and you know there might be an ex (or two) there that might bring up some feelings, then let your partner know.
The idea is that we are all adults, we aren’t going to always like or be comfortable with what we discuss with our partners, but we still owe it to them and us to show up. Oftentimes, we either don’t want to discuss certain issues or we attempt to pretend that they don’t exist because they make us uncomfortable.
This only delays the issue and then, instead of it being a simple expression of communication, it becomes a confrontation.
We have the ability to shape our relationships according to our needs and wants yet, in order to do that, we have to be able to give what we are requesting from another.
This means that we can’t ask for honesty and transparency from our lover if we’re still hiding our own truth.
When we make the choice to start building preemptive communication within our relationships, we allow ourselves to become accountable, and create honesty, and openness with our partner.
It does take two to make a relationship work, but it also takes the willingness to step out of our comfort zone and invite another into it—more deeply than we ever have with anyone else.
It’s making the choice to be the kind of partner that we would want to be with.