From Megan: The following post comes from Madeline Mason Roantree, Dating Coach & Director of Psychology Services at The Vida Consultancy based in London. I'm thrilled to introduce you to her work and wise advice.
Good communication is essential in order for a relationship to thrive – but we all have different ideas about what this looks like. Actions such as compromise and doing favours for one another go a long way towards improving the health of your relationship but, however good your intentions, most couples will experience disruption in their communication at some point. Sometimes, if these issues persist and pervade day-to-day living, it may be worth seeking professional help.
No relationship is argument-free – nor should it be expected to be so – but there are some common, but entirely avoidable, pitfalls within communication, which can erode the quality of a relationship.
We are often so intent on getting our point across that we end up interrupting our partner. It may be that one or both parties simply never let the other finish their argument. Perhaps they don’t listen, or have unrealistic assumptions with regards to how long their partner should have “airtime.” Other times, the interruptions are a result of deeper underlying issues, such as mistrust towards what is being said, or being overly defensive, even if no blame is actually being dished out. The result? Neither partner listens and takes on board the issue at hand – and nothing is resolved.
Raking up the past
It is a common experience amongst couples that one or both partners bring up an old issue or argument, perhaps years old, in order to get a point across in what they believe to be a particularly hard-hitting, effective manner. The person on the receiving end will often feel exasperated that the past remains unresolved; the old hurt may return and pervade their present-day wellbeing, leading to dismay and hopelessness. In reality, the issue may well have been resolved a long time ago, but the partner rehashing the past is attempting to use it to illustrate their feelings on a current issue. However, this usually backfires: both parties end up in stalemate as communication breaks down, the result being that the issue at hand goes unresolved.
Complaints and counter-complaints
A similar stalemate occurs when a complaint receives a counter-complaint. “You never take the rubbish out” is swiftly met with “Well you never wash the car!”. Whilst both points may be valid, it is not helpful to fight fire with fire. This often happens because the receiver of the original complaint feels criticised or rejected, and struggles to believe that the partner doing the criticising does actually still love and respect them. Thus, they defend themselves with counter-arguments. Bringing up a counter-argument makes the first partner – who instigated the discussion to begin with – feel unheard, and therefore hurt and frustrated. This can create an ensuing volley of counter-arguments. Nothing gets resolved, leaving the couple in a worse state than when they started.
When a person criticises the attributes or intentions of their partner, it becomes a criticism of the individual themselves, not just of the circumstances. For example, a person who complains that their partner doesn’t care about them and is late to everything is thinking in a fundamentally different way than if they believed their partner’s tardiness to be due simply to traffic. Once the attribution of the issue becomes personal, it becomes harder for the discussion to move forward.
Whilst it is healthy to raise and discuss issues, timing can be crucial. It is not uncommon for conversations to escalate into arguments when alcohol has been involved, for example. Similarly, it may be that a person finally feels the urge to discuss what’s been bothering them – but just before bedtime, when their other half is tired and has little energy to discuss the ins and outs of the issue at hand. This in itself can then lead to an argument, as the partner with something on their mind feels rejected, not listened to.
These pitfalls are not, in and of themselves, unavoidable; it’s human nature to react in some of these ways. In fact, such reactions may occasionally even be warranted. It is the persistence of issues being dealt with in these ways that can be unhelpful, even harmful, to the relationship in the long term. As each party has 50% of the responsibility of the success of the relationship, there are things both individuals can and should be mindful of in order to avoid the erosion of the relationship that it has taken time and love to build.
Give each other space. Gather your thoughts before talking things over. Be mindful not to hog the airtime. Try to empathise with your partner’s point of view. Begin conversations with something positive, or at the very least acknowledging of your partner (“I know how hard you work to get food on the table, but I was really upset you forgot my birthday”). And, of course, try to bring these issues up at an appropriate time – not when you’re setting the alarm clock, or they’re dashing out the door for a meeting.
Relationships are hard work. It can be draining, especially if you have issues with confidence or previous relationship struggles have left you uncertain about your future love life. If you think you could benefit from some one-on-one help, delving into the inner workings of your mind, understanding what you need to (and not do) in order to secure a healthy, happy long-term partnership, why not speak to the expert.
The Vida Consultancy (award-winning matchmaking agency) has their very own in-house dating coach and relationship psychologist Madeleine Mason Roantree. An expert in both cognitive behavioural therapy and applied positive psychology, Madeleine is warm, understanding and has over fifteen years’ experience of helping people to find love – by helping themselves.
It is important to always remember to date in whatever way is most comfortable and suited to you. Whether you meet a partner by more traditional means, such as through friends, family or work, or via an online platform, at the end of the day, the love and happiness you discover will be completely and utterly real.