By Shradha Shendge
Valentine’s Day: a day that feels like an explosion of candy hearts, red roses, and pink tinsels & trimmings everywhere you go. I’ve personally found the past several Valentine’s Days to be overbearing in their commercial nature. But this year, I want to shift my focus to the true heart of this holiday: the relationships we cultivate in our lives. More specifically, I want to hone in on the communication you need to maintain healthy relationships not only romantically, but in all of the forms they come in—whether it’s with your significant other, family, or friends.
The art of conveying your thoughts and feelings with another person in a relationship is essential because it helps you better understand each other and deal with conflicts constructively. Fostering positive relationships is built around different forms of communication. It isn’t just a one-size-fits-all sort of component, but rather a mix of several key elements that can be tailored to any relationship.
Here are some key ideas for you to think about regarding the relationships in your life. How many of these do you already implement and what can you do to strengthen the communication in your relationships?
- Establish a communication pattern.
Like I mentioned before, healthy communication is crucial in all types of relationships, but it is not going to look exactly the same for all of your relationships. It’s all based on your needs and the circumstances. Pay close attention to how conversations flow between you and your friends, between your parents or siblings, or between you and your partner. Recognizing the current state of communication is important. Ask yourself: How can I communicate better? Are there other ways to communicate? What can we do more of? What can we do less of?
- Communication is a two-way street.
Improving communication does require some self-reflection, but it should be noted that it is an action between two people. Think of communication as a scale. During a conversation, there are two people sending out, receiving, and processing information. In the grand scheme of things, try to ensure that when you invest energy by communicating, you are receiving ample communication back and balancing the scale.
- Establish boundaries.
If you feel the scale tipping out of balance, you might need to establish firmer boundaries. For instance, you might not be receiving enough constructive and involved feedback from someone in your relationship. You might share some news and their response could be passive, or even aggressive. Cultivating positive relationships should be about replenishing your energy as much as you expend. If you’re feeling drained after a conversation, try shelving the topic, giving each other space as needed, and coming back after a bit for a refreshed mindset on how to proceed.
- People aren’t mind readers.
It’s usually impossible to tell exactly what another person is thinking even when you’re having a conversation with them—unless they tell you. Because of this, expressing your feelings clearly is a great way to avoid miscommunication and further hurting anyone else’s feelings. Be assertive and take accountability in what you say while being respectful.
- Healthy confrontation doesn’t have to be intimidating.
I’m the type of person that gets really nervous about confrontation, and my first instinct is usually to avoid it altogether. However, avoiding confrontation in relationships isn’t good and can often have a compounding effect on the original issue. Something I’ve found that works better for me is trying it along with another passive or easy activity. If your traditional face-to-face conversation is nerve-wracking, try talking to them whilst going on a walk or driving somewhere—not too distracting of an activity, but something that still eases the pressure. Most importantly, remember that prevention can be the name of the game. A lot of conflicts and situations that escalate can be prevented by being proactive and discussing things first (e.g. how to split chores, running errands, when you need personal time, and other personal preferences).
6. Active listening and nonverbal communication are just as important.
Sometimes, all you or the other person in your relationship need is a listening ear. By actively listening, you can show your support and care for your loved ones. For example, if your friend is gushing about her summer vacation excitedly, show interest by asking follow-up questions and being expressive in your responses.
These are just some ideas and things to keep in mind when thinking about healthy relationship communication. And what better day to start applying these tips than on Valentine’s Day? In the end, of course—enjoy the lighthearted fun of this festive holiday, but remember that the relationships you nurture are at the heart of it all.