You hear it time and time again: “Communication is key in relationships.” It’s a fact that almost everyone knows and thinks they understand, but what do we mean by communication? Couples might say that talking about feelings and ensuring each person is on the same page is the best way to know how your SO feels, but instead of listening to the relationship gossip, we decided to turn to science to find out the best ways to communicate.
1. Stop texting (okay, not completely)
We live in an age where the art of conversing is lost. Texting is just so much quicker, easier and, well, less awkward. You don’t have to worry about blurting out something stupid, and you can have endless conversations — seems great, right? Wrong.
The awkwardness that we associate with in-person talking is a huge and extremely important part of communication, and all the texting you do might actually be why you feel so uncomfortable having conversations.
In fact, a study conducted by University of North Carolina psychologists found that as texting increased, other forms of communication actually decreased. In the study they used a sample of 395 students, ranging from 15 to 19 that were primarily in long-distance relationships. They were asked to record all of the types of communication they used to talk, including Skype, texting, email and phone calls. They also asked each one to rank how happy they were in their relationship from 1 (strongly disagree) – 10 (strongly agree) based on corresponding statements about their relationship.
What they found was pretty shocking. Based on the responses, they concluded that the people who used texting as a form of communication most often were actually the unhappiest with their relationship. Yes, you read that right. The form of communication that you use every single day of your life could actually be hurting your relationship.
This isn’t the first study that has reached this conclusion. Many researchers have postulated the negative effects of texting for years. Using examples of other studies, the research report for this study says that, “The most consistent finding is that secure partners are more likely to use adaptive emotional communication, whereas insecure partners show dysfunctional communication patterns: whereas avoidant or dismissive partners tend to adopt detached emotional communication, anxious or preoccupied partners tend to express anger using destructive communication (e.g., Guerrero et al., 2009 and Kobak and Hazan, 1991). Basically, that means the strongest relationships are built on having real life conversations that include all the messy, awkward pauses we try so hard to avoid. Talking is good, so put down the phone and save something to talk about in person.
2. Sharing is caring
When we hear the word “communication” we immediately think of talking, but there’s more to it than idle chitchat. Communication involves how couples interact with each other, not only verbally, but also physically. In fact, simply sharing time with your SO can improve how you communicate and interact with each other.
In a study conducted by Erica J. Boothby, Margaret S. Clark, and John A. Bargh at Yale University, the question of whether sharing experiences with another person (without talking) would actually improve each individual’s experience was put to the test. Using chocolate, they studied whether a person would like it more by themselves while the other person was occupied or while eating it with them. They ended up discovering that the chocolate seemed better to those who ate it with a partner. So what does this prove? It proves that communication by talking isn’t always necessary with your SO. Simply sharing an experience can actually help to improve your relationship just because you are with that person. So, although we may feel that tons of talking, listening and compromising are important — and they are — they aren’t the entirety of a relationship. Sometimes you just need to let the action speak for itself. That on its own is an important aspect of communication that you shouldn’t overlook.
3. Use your manners
You’ve been told to say “please” and “thank you” ever since you could speak. As it turns out, that was some pretty good advice. In fact, in a study by Sara B. Algoe, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Shelly L. Gable, University of California, Santa Barbara, and Natalya C. Maisel, University of California, Los Angeles, explored what effects saying thank you has on relationships. Although they found that male responses to expressions of gratitude were more varied, they ultimately determined that showing gratitude towards your significant other promoted a positive relationship and acted as a sort of “booster shot for the relationship.” So don’t forget to say thank you to your SO. It’s a form of communication that you shouldn’t forget, no matter how comfortable you get. It always feels nice to be thanked, and that positivity will shine through in the relationship.
4. “We” vs. “me”
Okay, get ready to get really science-y, because we’re pulling out the big guns. This study tested how satisfied couples were in their marriages based on their use of personal pronouns (i.e. me, my, I) and “we-ness” words (like us and we). Before you get all crazy and say that you're not married, this is a study that is pretty applicable to relationships in general, so don’t write it off. The craziest part about it? They didn’t judge happiness based off response, but off cardiovascular arousal. Science. The researchers ended up finding that when couples used more “we” words, it was in relation to a positive event. So basically, participants inherently included the other person in their language because they had a positive memory of it.
Don’t take this the wrong way; you don’t need to say “we” for every situation. No one loves the couple that uses “we” so much they become one person. Instead, make sure that you use “we” in all the right situations. It is a powerful word that can make you seem stronger and supportive of each other. If you’re comfortable using it, you’re comfortable in your relationship.
It isn’t always easy to communicate with your SO. Talking can turn to arguing, and zero talking can cause both sides to bottle up emotions. The key is interpersonal interaction. Take a step back from the technology, meet each other in person and simply enjoy their company. Have the difficult conversations in person, but don’t feel pressured to make every event an opportunity to dish out concerns. Remember that in the end, they are a person who responds to kindness just like you would, so don’t forget the “thank yous.” By sharing in experiences and going through the (sometimes) awkward moments that accompany conversation, your ability to communicate will be stronger than ever.