One of the biggest challenges for couples facing relational difficulty is in the communication realm. Oftentimes, couples who are in distress find that they are unable to have a conversation, without it erupting into a fierce argument. Three of the key elements of couples communication can be found in the three C’s: clarity, consistency and caring. By understanding and integrating them into your communication, you can improve your relational engagement with your partner.
One of the reasons that individuals engage in conflict is because one partner feels misunderstood or mistreated, but does not clearly and directly address his or her concerns. Clarity means being able to voice issues in the relationship with your partner, rather than indirectly through friends or family, or through somewhat passive-aggressive means. Sometimes, partners are uncomfortable with clear communication because he or she fears a negative response. Unfortunately, indirect or unclear communication can result in a more intense, negative reaction. If you are troubled by a certain aspect of the relationship (e.g. your partner not spending enough time with you), you should arrange to discuss this concern at a more opportune time, rather than in the midst of an argument. Take the time to talk directly about the issue and how it may make you feel, rather than placing blame on a partner.
Consistency means that you maintain the same message across different time periods. If you like or dislike a certain behavior of your partner, you should communicate it. Sometimes, we may hedge because we do not want to seem as if we are being unreasonable or inflexible. However, mixed or inconsistent messages can cause conflict (e.g. “Yes, I definitely want you to spend time with your friends” one day, and “Why are you spending so much time with your friends” on another) and negatively impact your satisfaction. It is more helpful to have a difficult and/or complex conversation about differences of opinion, than to send inconsistent messages, which eventually leads to the type of conflict you wanted to avoid.
The most crucial aspect of partner communication is approaching any engagement from a position of caring. When you are involved in a conflictual experiences in your relationship, your first impulse may be to be on the defensive, and to prepare for the worst. Rather, you should try to take the perspective of the other person. Why is he or she reacting in this way? How am I contributing to this response? How can I make things better? How do I communicate that I love him or her? Caring communication provides the type of safety that allows your partner to take risks, and demonstrate vulnerability. Caring communication can encompass tone, language, timing, method of engagement, it’s not solely about words.
While the 3 C’s may not be the cure-all to everything that ails your relationship, they can be an effective starting point in increasing partner communication safety.SHARE: