Good communication and emotional safety in intimate relationships

Many couples come to counselling wanting assistance to communicate better. They are looking for strategies that they can apply so that each is able to feel that their partner has heard, understood and respected their view.

While strategies are important, and can be learned and mastered with practice, the underlying principles are more important to bear in mind. These rest on the idea that creating safety - emotionally and psycholocigally as well as physically - is key to successful communication.

So how is this achieved?

Creating safety relies on the following:-

* Focus on understanding. As a first step, aim to understand and appreciate your partner's point of view. Put aside problem solving or trying to reach an agreement until each of you are absolutely satisfied that the other has truly got where you are coming from.

* Use 'safe talking' techniques. These include - when you are talking, sticking to the one issue, saying how you feel about the issue rather than what is wrong with your partner's perspective, keeping your language respectful, and avoiding being the 'expert' about what your partner thinks and feels about the issue. When you are listening, it's important to give your partner your full attention. You may try to paraphrase back to them what they have told you to make sure you have it right. Manage your own strong reactions to what is being said - you may need to calm yourself in order to do this. Accept your partner's right to have their own understanding and views - don't correct them or impose your own interpretation.

It is possible to be respectful of your partner's views, and to work at really understanding them, without having to take the position of agreeing or disagreeing with them. Most of the time, once we feel truly heard and respected by each other, probem-solving or reaching a compromise becomes much simpler to accomplish. Where solutions are still hard to find, it may be possible to peacefully agree to disagree, or keep the conversation going over a longer period of time until resolution can be found.

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