We all know that communication is a two-way street. So, when you share something exciting with your partner, you probably expect to receive that similar, exciting energy back.
But what happens when you get a negative response or your partner isn't interested in what you have to say? Below is an example of that happening in a relationship:
You have big news...your sister is getting married! So, after you hang up with your sister, you rush into the living room and ask your partner, “Guess what?” and spill the beans about the wedding plans!
But rather than getting an enthusiastic response, your partner shrugs it off as if it's not really a big deal.
How to Change Unhealthy and Unproductive Communication
You may have felt this pain before. Getting the cold shoulder or a negative response from your partner definitely hurts.
Luckily, there are ways you can prevent this pain from recurring on a loop. It simply requires adjusting the way you and your partner start conversations and communicate overall.
When you or your partner experiences this feeling of getting a cold shoulder or not matching one another's energy level in a conversation, it doesn't mean they are feeling negative toward you. Often, it’s just a sign you both need to make behavioral changes in how you communicate.
The first step to making effective changes in your relationship communication is to practice empathy. Stop looking from your lens, and put yourself in your partner's shoes.
So, let's reverse the roles and look at a situation with a new perspective. In this scenario, you are focusing on writing a stressful email for work. You are struggling to find the right way to phrase it when your focus and concentration are all of a sudden broken. Your partner runs into the room, rushing to tell you big news about something they just heard. You know, there’s no hope in finishing the email now after you've lost your concentration!
This dynamic can be very frustrating for both partners, and as humans, we can only truly focus on one task at a time. It's also a lot to ask our partners to drop everything the moment we need their attention.
For each partner to fully listen to each other or even answer questions, it's helpful to have a few moments of transition in our train of thought.
Shift To A “Soft Start” In Your Relationship Communication
Each time you start a conversation with your partner, you add new energy into the room. If this energy is loud and overwhelming, your partner will need time to get up to your level and change their mindset. In the email example above, the partner is not ready to fully listen, which is where conflict arises.
So how do you ensure you're heard in a way that doesn't create tension in the relationship? Use the Soft Start approach in your communication.
This has softer energy when approaching one another in your relationship - it's more about introducing the conversation and getting each partner to consent, rather than expecting them to drop everything and forcing the discussion on one another. This approach is where you invite one another into the conversation.
Here are three examples of how to make a Soft Start in your relationship:
“Hey honey, I have something exciting to tell you. Are you free at the moment?”
“Hello! I would love to chat about my day with you. Is now a good time?”
“Hi, I know you are busy at work right now, but I have some big news I'd love to share with you. What time can we talk about it later?”
Simply letting your partner know you'd like to discuss something allows for a smoother transition going into a relationship conversation. It also helps to shift the energy to concentrate on a single task.
If your partner is ready to talk at that moment, go for it and have your conversation. If that specific time isn't good for your partner or you, be sure to let one another know where the other will be when ready to talk.
When you and your partner have a mutually agreed-upon time to talk, you'll experience a much more productive, engaging, and positive connection and even conversation together.
We're here to help with our virtual and in-person Imago Relationships Workshops and Imago Relationships Therapy. You can also discover more about Imago Relationships with our Professional Membership, Professional Facilitators, Professional Training, and Educational Webinars.
Connect. Transform. Thrive.
This blog post was written by Damian Duplechain, the co-founder, and chief clinical officer for the Center for Marriage & Family Relationships in Houston, Texas.
Damian brings decades of experience to his practice, helping hundreds of couples and families discover how to co-create the relationships they want. He has also supervised many clinicians in couples and family therapy over the years.
His work in helping couples and families learn to communicate effectively and connect more strongly, and to practice understanding and empathy is rooted in Imago philosophy. He is a certified Imago therapist with additional training in the Emotional Freedom Technique, John Gottman’s model, Terry Real’s model, and PACT (Psychological Approach to Couples Therapy) by Dr. Stan Tatkin.
He has presented 200-plus Imago Couples Workshops that have served more than 2,000 couples and has collaborated with a number of his colleagues on clinical presentations both in the United States and internationally.