“How was your day, dear?” What if the way that question was handled became a tool to build emotional connection between you and your partner? By using the tool of a Stress-Reducing Conversation, which is a specific kind of active listening, you can actively increase emotional attraction, and in turn build more trust and love in your relationship.
How Effective Communication for Couples Helps you Connect
Stress Impacts Your Relationship
Outside problems (at work, with friends, or with family members) often end up intruding into relationships and fuel the fires of conflict. Couples who are overrun by stress and fail to discuss this with each other see their level of emotional attraction drop, and subsequently see their relationships suffer. On the other hand, those who talk about the stresses of daily life with one another, and help each other to cope, keep their relationships strong.
How to Have a Stress-Reducing Conversation
To do this exercise, consider the timing of the chat. Some people want to unburden themselves when they are barely through the door. Others need to decompress on their own for a while before they are ready for interaction, but they may want to talk before it gets late and they feel too tired. Talk to your partner and find out their preference.
Topics for discussion could be any stressor that you experience in your daily life. But initially (that is, until you are fluent in this kind of conversation) it is best to avoid stressors related to the relationship. Face each other in a comfortable setting, such as on a couch or perhaps on facing chairs. The “speaker” could stretch out on the couch with their head in the “listener’s” lap, and you can then switch positions as the conversation shifts.
Effective Communication Pay Attention to Your Partner
The speaker will begin by talking about a stressor that they experienced that day. The listener will encourage the speaker with verbal and non-verbal cues, including encouraging comments and careful questions, in order to show their complete attention. Questions should focus on the speaker’s feelings concerning the event, and the effects of the stressor on the speaker.
The cardinal rule in a stress-reducing conversation is this: Listen carefully to your partner. Do not attempt to “fix” them, or the situation they bring up.
Understanding Must Precede Advice
This is not the time to discuss areas of conflict between the two of you, or to point fingers of blame. It is also not the time to instruct your partner on how to fix their problems. Rather, it is an opportunity to support each other emotionally in regard to other areas in your lives. Remember that understanding must precede advice.
Plan on the exercise taking about 30 minutes when you begin, with 15 minutes per partner. As you improve your skills, the exercise can be completed in 20 minutes.
Take Turns, allowing each partner to get to be the speaker, or “explainer,” for 15 minutes.
Avoid giving unsolicited advice. The major rule in helping your partner to de-stress is that understanding must precede advice. Permission to give advice must also be granted. Warning: This is hard to do if you are a “fixer” and have a solution to everyone’s concerns.
Stay Focused on Your Partner
Show genuine interest in your partner and don’t allow your mind or eyes to wander. Use your body language to encourage your partner to share their heart and their inner concerns. Try to stay intently focused on your partner. Seek to communicate your understanding. Let your partner know that you can and are empathizing with what they are saying.
Take your partner’s side. This means being supportive, even if you think that part of their perspective is unreasonable, for it is all about perspective. Try not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. If your relationship is important to you, this is almost certainly more important than your opinion on the intricacies of your mate’s conversation with their boss. Again, understanding must precede advice.
Express a “we against others” attitude. Let your partner know that the two of you are in this together and that you are a team. Express your affection and hold your partner. Put an arm on their shoulder and say, “I love you.” Validate their emotions and let your partner know that their feelings make sense to you by telling them just that.
Questions to Start a Stress-Reducing Conversation
Here are some questions that you can ask to help the speaking partner to open up.
- What is most upsetting to you about this situation?
- What is it that you don’t like about this situation?
- What is the worst that could happen in this situation?
- What is this like for you?
When it feels that the speaker has explained themselves and that the two of you have explored the topic, and there is a sense of “winding down” in the conversation, ask your partner, “Do you feel understood yet?” This is a crucial question, and a yes answer allows you to shift to the next step in this conversational process. If the speaker does not feel understood, continue to explore and ask careful questions in order to draw out what is not understood. Continue until the speaker feels understood.
Once the speaker feels understood, shift to questions that can help you to determine what you can do to help your partner. Sometimes a partner does not need anything. They know that and will say that they just needed to be heard. At other times, the two of you may need to create a solution together. Be creative here and ask questions such as:
- Is there anything I can do to support you in this?
- What do you need?
Try to commit to having this kind of conversation for about 20 minutes at the end of each day, or several times a week. Remember that there is no such thing emotionally as an “over-reaction” to events in a day, even if these are small things. By speaking of them, and by the partner’s willingness to not judge these emotions but to “hold” these matters, both big and small, you form more emotional “glue” that holds you closer together.
Christian Counseling to Build Lasting Relationships
If you have the sense that you need to increase the emotional “glue” that holds your relationship together, you may want to consider Christian counseling. A trained Christian counselor can provide a safe space in which you and your partner can engage each other at a deeper level, enabling you to communicate in a more meaningful way about the challenges that you both face together.
Adapted from The Johnson-Gottman Summit, July 2013; Gottman Couples Therapy + Emotionally Focused TherapyPhotos
“Coffee in the Rain,” courtesy of Garry Knight, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “It’s All About Love,” courtesy of Candida.Performa, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Couple Chatting in Restaurant,” clip from VideoBlocks.com Clip, courtesy of stockphotosforfree.com