If you’re aiming to be with your partner long-term, there’s almost nothing more useful than learning what healthy communication in a relationship looks like. Knowing how to communicate with your partner in a clear, honest, and mindful way is a tool you can use to help you better navigate conflict and convey your feelings — which is key for making things work in the long run.
“Communication is the lubricant in the gears of a relationship, which is a dynamic thing that is something bigger than the people involved,” Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, licensed psychotherapist, tells Bustle. “When communication breaks down — whether that is intentional, happens through lack of skill, or fear about what will happen when we open up — the relationship begins to lack the buoyancy and flow that is possible when people are clear and open with one another.”
Regardless of how much you love your partner unhealthy communication habits have the ability to quickly kill any relationship — particularly if you or your partner have no desire to change how you communicate. If you want to make sure you’re equipped to solve problems and express your feelings in a healthy, productive way, here’s what relationship experts recommend.
It’s Open, Honest, And Vulnerable
Although it can feel scary to be vulnerable with someone, you can’t get to the root of an issue or argument if you’re unwilling to be open and honest about your feelings. Healthy communication doesn’t involve lying or misrepresenting your feelings: it’s about being totally transparent with one another.
“Healthy communication in any relationship is based on the premise that both parties are open and honest with each other,” Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. “If you’re able to respect each other and really hear what the other person is saying, then you’re on the right path.”
It’s Done Face-To-Face
It’s unrealistic to assume all communication in a relationship can be done face-to-face (especially if you’re in a long-distance relationship), but as far as the important stuff goes, it’s much better to talk in person than to try to resolve conflict over the phone — or worse, text.
“One of the main factors of healthy communication is the ability to have important conversations face-to-face to avoid any misinterpretation,” Backe says. “[…] The idea is to talk to each other, rather than at each other. It’s a subtle shift that can make a world of difference.”
It’s Not Judgmental
One of the hardest parts about opening up to someone is dealing with the fear of being judged — but in a healthy relationship, neither partner will make the other feel judged for sharing their feelings or opinions.
“Healthy communication occurs when both participants are calm, they are open to hearing a differing perspective or opinion, and their goal is to find a common ground, a solution, or just to learn about the other person, all without judgment or anger in reaction to what the other person says,” Kryss Shane, LMSW, LGBT sex and relationship expert, tells Bustle.
Arguments Are About Understanding Each Other, Not “Winning”
It can be difficult not to get caught up in being the one who “wins” a given argument, but healthy fighting isn’t about who’s right or wrong. Rather, it’s about both partners sharing their perspectives and finding a solution as a team.
“Healthy communication involves speaking with the intent of understanding your partner better,” Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, LMFT at The Zinnia Practice, tells Bustle. “It’s not about being right or proving the other wrong. It seeks to build a bridge between partners, rather than to shame the other.”
It Doesn’t Involve Making Assumptions
Particularly if you’ve been with someone for a long time, it’s tempting to just assume what your partner is thinking at any given time. But in order to avoid unnecessary miscommunications, it’s crucial to ask for clarification of your partner’s feelings rather than making assumptions.
“Healthy communication also seeks to clarify what the other means, rather than building on assumptions,” Osibodu-Onyali says. “So often we respond based on what we think our partner means. When communication is healthy, each individual is able to ask for clarification, get clarification and then move on to another topic.”