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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 can be intellectual, emotional, and physical.

An intimate relationship is one in which you:

  • pay attention to your partner
  • share ideas and thoughts
  • share 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 (turning away from your partner, nodding your head, showing that you are listening)
  • facial expressions (smiling, frowning, looking disgusted)
  • touch (hugs, holding hands, sexual intimacy)

Research has shown that the quality of your relationship is directly related to the quality of your communication skills. This 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 express what you really think and feel and that your partner trusts you the same way.

Try using the methods below to strengthen your communication and your relationship.

Improve your self-image.

Communication is greatly affected by your self-image. Your appearance, sense of accomplishment, education, profession, and health are all part of your self-image. If you have a poor image of yourself, you may be shy about expressing yourself. You may think your partner is critical of you, even when he or she is not.

Learn to overcome your insecurities, fears, and low self-esteem. A better self-image helps you and your partner to send and receive accurate and undistorted communication.

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 first and then to speak.

Express interest in what your partner is thinking and doing. Really try to understand how your partner feels. Do not 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 backfire. Your partner may not do anything to provoke you, 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 offended 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 honest 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 and let your partner know your emotional state in a less threatening manner.

Respect and support your partner.

When you respect each other, you avoid calling each other names and putting each other down. Respect means being courteous. 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. 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, flowers, 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 your understanding of how your past influences the present. Talk about the crazy things that happen day to day. 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. State what you really think and be willing to accept different views and feelings, even anger.

Try to phrase messages so they do not cause hurt or invite rejection. Be cautious about what you say and how you say it. Your goal is to communicate in order to create and maintain a positive, loving 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." 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 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.

Improving communication skills can help turn a problem relationship into an intimate relationship that is satisfying for both of you.

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File soci4407.htm Release 13/2010

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