While walking through Metro Center in Washington, DC, recently, I saw a millennial couple, in their late 20s, she was crying, and he was yelling. I have no idea what they were arguing about, but I instinctively asked myself whether they were communicating effectively. Building effective communication is a key focus in my work with quarter life and millennial couples in marriage and premarital counseling (read What Does Premarital Counseling Entail?). We want to believe that relationships happen “naturally” without effort, but successful relationships require effort to develop effective and open communication.
When one or both of you are going through a difficult time like a quarter life crisis, it’s even more important that the two of you communicate well with each other. Even though most of us recognize that communication is important for our relationship, it’s easy to fall into negative patterns with our partners.
Effective and open communication is THE most important ingredient to a successful relationship.
Here are three common pitfalls that interfere with effective communication and conflict resolution in relationships.
To set yourself up for a successful, satisfying relationship,
AVOID THESE 3 COMMUNICATION PITFALLS:
1. Pointing fingers.
When arguing, it’s easy to blame your partner, especially if you feel hurt or misunderstood. So often I see couples make global, and extreme, criticisms of each other such as “you’re so inconsiderate because you ALWAYS come home late from work and miss dinner with me.” This statement is problematic in 2 ways:
1. It is a global statement about their character: “you are inconsiderate”
2. It uses an all or nothing approach: “you always get home late…”
Use “I” statements. You can say instead, “When you arrive late and miss dinner with me, I feel lonely, and I miss you. I have more fun when you’re here.”
2. Arguing when intoxicated.
Couples report that their worst arguments often occur when one or both have been drinking alcohol. A “turning 30 crisis” puts quarterlifers at greater risk of binge drinking. For more information about binge drinking and the quarterlife crisis, read my blog post here. Alcohol consumption rarely improves communication in couples, and often it leads to extreme statements and accusations (see #1 of this blog post).
If you or your partner have been drinking and you begin to argue, agree to stop the conversation and to continue it the following day. It only takes one of you to put the brakes on it. Take a breather to calm down and stop drinking. Maybe even call it a night, and get some rest.
3. Choosing the wrong time for important conversations.
Let’s say you are upset because your partner hasn’t been helping around the house as much as you’d like. It’s been bothering you for a while, and you feel like you have to let him know. So as soon as he walks in the door from work, you tell him you’re annoyed and you start listing all of the chores he’s forgotten to do in the past month. He gets defensive and angry in response.
Obviously, this is an important concern for you, and communicating about it could improve your relationship. That said, you must remember that the timing of the conversation is also important. Just like you wouldn’t barge into your supervisor’s office at work without notice and launch into a list of complaints, you shouldn’t do that with your partner either. Waiting for a time that is convenient for both of you, where you are mentally present and calm, increases the chances that your concerns will be heard and received well.
In order to have an open and productive conversation, try asking “Is there a time this evening that we could talk about something that’s on my mind?” If he isn’t able to talk about it that night, then ask, “When is a good time for you this week?”
The Gottman Institute, The Four Horsemen. https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-the-antidotes/
About the Quarterlife Center (QLC):
Our QLC Counselors specialize in working with individuals and couples in their 20s and 30s in a supportive, caring, confidential setting. We will work with you to help you identify your passions, achieve your goals and thrive in your life.
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