Improve Your Couples Communication: Relate, Don’t Control

improve your couples communication

Today’s tip is about a fundamental attitude shift in how you approach every conversation with your partner. And that is to make your aim to relate to the other person, not manipulate the outcome. Put more succinctly, it’s to relate, not manipulate in order to improve your couples communication.

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Think about the last conversation you had with your partner where you had to discuss something that affected you both

Maybe it was about your kid, or how to pay for something, or what you wanted to do for your next vacation, or something that needs doing around the house. I am going to wager that you went into that conversation thinking about how you could get your partner to do what you want. I’m willing to bet that you went into that conversation with an agenda, and that agenda was to get your way.

I’m willing to bet this because this is what most people do. I think of it as a vestige of childhood, when you really really wanted to be able to go to the mall with your friends on Saturday, or stay up late, or whatever little thing your heart desired, and you had to figure out a way to get your parents to say yes. 

Well guess what, even as adults, we are still trying to figure out how to get other people to do what we want

And while there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily—I want you to get what you want, and I want me to get what I want, too—it basically pits you against each other. And that’s not a great dynamic for a happy relationship, am I right? That’s a recipe for a power struggle. Ugh, even just saying those words is kind of exhausting. Who wants to struggle for power multiple times a day, every day, for the rest of the foreseeable future?? I don’t. 

It also means you head into your conversations a little or a lot less likely to really listen to what your partner has to say. After all, you’re busy, thinking about what your next move is, and what you’re going to say next. And I know you’ve had the experience of trying to talk to someone when you can tell that they’re not really listening. It feels bad, doesn’t it? 

So, here’s what you do instead to improve your couples communication

You let go of the idea that a conversation is something that you need to win. Instead of making it your goal to control the outcome, you make it your goal simply to relate your experience–how you’re feeling, as well as your wishes. I’ll talk about how to do that in just a second, but first I want to talk about why. 

When you make it your goal to relate, not manipulate, you get to just be in the moment, with your partner. You’re not trying to think two steps ahead. You are right here, right now. And having that presence helps you connect better and improve your couples communication.

Also, this approach helps open up the space to collaborate with your partner on what you end up doing. It’s not your individual way, or their individual way, but the way that you come up with, together. Its your way, and in this instance, the your is plural. 

All told, relating is a lot lower stakes than seeking to control a particular outcome, and lower stakes means lower stress. You don’t have to prepare like a lawyer going to trial. You just have to show up, stay connected to yourself, and say what you feel. I understand that can have its own level of stress, but I’m just about to give you some pointers on how to do it that will help. But it always takes less energy to be real than to be calculated. It may feel risky in the moment to be that honest, but you sleep a lot better at night because you know you were true to yourself. 

So, how do you improve your couples communication? I want you to remember this acronym—CRAWL.

Because if you want to run off into the sunset together, you’ve got to learn how to crawl first, ha. 

Let’s pretend that you need to have a conversation with your partner about your next trip. 

The C stands for connect.

This is how you start, by saying something that reminds you both of your connection. It could be something as simple as “Honey, I love you and there’s something I’m excited to talk to you about.” Or, “Hey, babe, it seems like you’ve got a little downtime, do you have time to talk about something with me?” It’s just something that lets them know that you are both on the same page. 

The R stands for relate

And when I say relate, I mean relate your experience. This is where you stick to “I” statements, that describe how you feel about something. “I’ve been thinking about our plans for the summer, and every time I do I feel a little lurch in my stomach because we haven’t made a plan yet to get away.” You’re not saying anything about them, like, “I know you don’t like to spend money on travel,” or “You’ve been avoiding talking about this with me.” You are basically inviting them into your experience. You are relating what’s going on in your mind. 

Then the A stands for ask

This is where you ask an open-ended question, “have you had any thoughts about our summer plans?” or, one of my favorite ways to phrase it is, ‘What are your hopes and dreams for our summer vacation?”

The W stands for Wait

This is where you stop talking, ha. And where you give your partner your attention. It may take them a few seconds or more to come up with a thoughtful answer. That is ok. This is not a race. If you have to, count to 15. If they haven’t said anything by then, count to 15 again. 

And then the L stands for listen

This is where you really let in what they have to say. You don’t judge it. You don’t think over it. You don’t start planning what you’re going to say in response. You just. Listen. And then, guess what? You go back to C again. The second time around, you want to connect with yourself AND the other person.

And the best way I know to connect with yourself is to take a breath—it’s a tiny little pause that gives you a lot of space to notice how you’re feeling—and then say something like that validates what they just said. “Oh wow, I can hear that just thinking about this is stressful to you.” Or, “I can understand that.” something that just lets them know that you heard what they said and you accept it. Then you Relate your reaction to that. And then you ask your next question, wait for the answer, and then listen when the answer comes. Repeat as necessary. 

This is how you get both of your hopes, dreams, thoughts, and reactions out on the table, and once you do that, you can work together to find something that sounds good to both of you. 

The truth is, the CRAWL method works in all your relationships and can improve your couples communication

I use it with my kids, my parents. Any time the conversation is something I’m not looking forward to, it gives me a framework that helps me not get anxious and ahead of myself. I remember I just have to connect, relate, ask, wait, and listen. And together, we’ll get to where we need to go. 

Of course, listening is its own thing, and the subject of its own episode. Episode 4, to be exact. Listening is such a fundamental skill of being a better person that it was one of the very first I covered, and one of the most popular. So scroll back in your feed and give that one a listen, no pun intended, too. 

I hope you’ll have fun experimenting with relating instead of manipulating. I think you’ll find that it’s quite a relief to not have to try to get your partner to do what you want! And that collaborating can lead you to places you never would have gotten to on your own, and that works out better than you could have planned. 



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