Communication in Intimate Relationships

When you are in an intimate relationship, you should feel understood and accepted for who you are. You trust the other person and can open up completely to them. Intimacy is a sense of belonging.

An intimate relationship is one in which you:

  • Pay attention to your partner.
  • Spend time together and feel like you can count on each other.
  • Share ideas, thoughts, and feelings with each other without fear.
  • Try to understand why you and your partner behave as you do.

You can communicate in many ways:

  • Words (what you say and what you do not say in phone calls, in person, in writing)
  • Gestures (leaning toward or turning away from your partner, nodding your head, showing that you are listening)
  • Facial expressions (making eye contact, smiling, frowning, looking disgusted)
  • Touch (hugs, holding hands, sexual intimacy)

Communicating does not mean that you always sit around talking about your relationship. It means that you talk about things that really matter. It means that you are not afraid to say what you really think and feel and that your partner trusts you the same way.

Here are some ways to strengthen your communication and your relationship.

Improve your self-image.

Your appearance, sense of accomplishment, education, profession, and health are all part of your self-image. If you have a poor self-image, you may be shy about being yourself. You may think your partner is critical of you, even when he or she is not. If you feel insecure, your partner can’t help unless you talk about it. If you want to improve your self-image, focus on things you can do, things you are good at, and things that make you feel proud. When you feel confident you usually get along better with your partner and can get more done.

Practice active listening skills.

Listening is even more important than talking. Most of us are not good listeners. It is important for couples to learn to listen for more than just the words. Your goal is to understand your partner’s thoughts and feelings. When your partner talks about why he or she is upset, restate what you think you have heard to clarify what is really meant. Then express your own thoughts.

Let your partner know that you care about what he or she is thinking and doing. Really try to understand how your partner feels. Don’t assume that you already know.

Don’t depend on mind-reading.

Trying to read your partner’s mind, or expecting your partner to read yours, can cause more problems. Your partner may not mean anything negative, yet you may feel insulted. For example, your partner tells you about someone’s expensive condo and recent promotion. You might think your partner is criticizing you for not making enough money or not getting a better job.

Sometimes it seems you can’t talk about anything without offending each other. So you stop talking to each other to avoid arguing and fighting. Then each partner is upset by the silence of the other and sees it as punishment. Ask questions and clarify what your partner really means.

Pride and stubbornness get in the way of communication. We often expect our partners to understand without having to say anything. Tell your partner about your feelings, needs, and desires. If you find yourself saying “He should know what I want,” or “I shouldn’t have to tell her,” your communication skills need work.

Learn how to talk about yourself.

You may not be sure how to say what you mean to get your partner to understand how you feel. Learn how to express your feelings. Use “I” language. For example, say “I feel…I need…I want….” This will help you to express yourself without being hostile. The goal is to make positive changes, not to make the other person feel guilty.

Respect and support your partner.

When you respect each other, you avoid calling each other names and putting each other down. Respect means being kind and courteous. Let your partner know what you value about him or her. Use “please,” “excuse me,” and “thank you” as freely with the person you love as you do with strangers.

Touch each other.

Touching is something that all human beings need. Touch can be sensual as well as sexual. Hold hands, snuggle on the couch while you watch TV, hug, kiss, take baths together, and give each other massages. Take time to learn what your partner likes. Touching each other often also makes sexual intimacy more comfortable.

Make your partner a priority.

Notice what is important to your partner. Don’t assume that something that pleases you will please your partner. Ask questions about what makes your partner feel loved.

Don’t take each other for granted. Make unexpected phone calls, special dinners, and little gifts part of your relationship. The idea is to communicate that you are thinking of each other even when you aren’t together.

Share the big stuff and the little things.

Share the big, important issues such as dreams and fears. Tell each other the stories of your lives, sharing how your past influences the present. Talk about the crazy things that happen day to day. Work together to solve problems as they come up. Be flexible and open to change. Be willing to laugh at yourself. Concentrate on humor that does not make fun of others, but that allows you to laugh together.

Be genuine.

Make sure that you and your partner feel safe enough to be honest and open about your feelings and ideas. Say what you really think and be willing to accept that your partner may view things differently. If you are being criticized, ask yourself if it’s true. Were you late? Did you forget something important? If the criticism is valid, apologize.

Try to phrase messages so they do not cause hurt or invite rejection. Be cautious about what you say and how you say it. That helps you communicate in a positive way in your relationship.

Manage conflict.

A relationship will not be truly intimate unless each partner knows what the other one is thinking and feeling. This means bringing hurt feelings or differences of opinion out into the open, not “suffering in silence.” Don’t be afraid of conflict. Speaking up, finding out what’s wrong, and then coming to a joint decision on what to do about it are signs of a healthy relationship.

Identify the real issue. Perhaps you think you are upset about a recent event, but it may cover up something bigger you are really concerned or angry about.

If anger gets in the way, take a brief time-out from talking about the issue (from half an hour to no more than 24 hours) and state a definite time to return to the issue. If anger returns when the discussion resumes, take another time-out. This will help keep you from saying things that you don’t mean or that will escalate the argument. Be willing to give something to get something.

Ask for help if you need it. Couples counseling or family therapy can teach skills to resolve future conflicts. Improving communication skills can help turn a problem relationship into an intimate relationship that is satisfying for both of you.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-23
Last reviewed: 2014-12-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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