Most of the lesbian couples that reach out to do couples counseling with me say that one of their biggest relationship issues is COMMUNICATION.
Can you relate?
If so, you’re definitely not alone. It’s supper common for couples (yes, even lesbian couples) to struggle with communication.
There are a couple of typical ways that these pesky communication problems show up
Do you and your partner go round and round about the same topics and never get anywhere new?
Do you end up frustrated or angry, feeling like she doesn’t listen or really hear what you’re saying?
Afterward, do you ever want to crawl in a hole because you said some mean or hurtful things to the woman you love? Feeling sad that you can’t hit a rewind button and change what you said.
Or would you say you’re more of your issues result from the communication affliction of avoidance?
You know, where you work hard to avoid having difficult discussions, because you don’t want to end up fighting. So you never (or at least rarely) speak your most vulnerable truth.
Whether you’re fighting too often or not speaking up enough, my bet is (like the couples I see in couples therapy) you can improve your communication game. And become a much better team.
7 simple habits that will improve your communication instantly (And they have nothing to do with how you talk or listen)
Chances are, most of the things you’ve heard or read about how to improve your communication are technical suggestions on how to speak differently or listen differently.
Well, you’ll be glad to know that I’m not going to bore you with more tips on how to use “I statements” or how to “parrot back” to your partner what you’ve just heard her say.
In my world, those tips are tired. AND ineffective. Especially if you don’t have some of the foundational pieces in place.
It would be like telling you and your partner to choreograph a seamless dance without knowing what music you’ll be dancing to or where you’ll be dancing. Just wouldn’t work well. Right?
7 non-verbal communication moves that will up your communication game:
1. Check the clock
Maybe that sounds silly. But I’m dead serious.
Think about this…
Have you ever tried to start a difficult conversation at about the time your partner is thinking of heading to bed? Or worse yet, right before your dinner guests are due to arrive?
Needless to say, it doesn’t go so well.
So, make sure you’re mindful of what time it is in relation to other important things going on with you and her.
And never start a hard discussion right before bed. Getting enough quality sleep is an important ingredient to happy relationships.
2. Sit eye-to-eye
What the heck does that mean?
I’ll tell you.
When you sit across from your partner, and close enough to see each other’s eyes (that’s what I call eye-to-eye), you set yourselves up for communication success. And you’ll go from disconnected to connected, fast.
It’s like having music for the dance.
One of my mentors, Dr. Stan Tatkin, explains that love is up close and war is at a distance.
When you gaze into one another’s eyes, you and your partner will have a loving and calming effect on each other.
You’ll be much less likely to trigger a threat response. And you’ll be in a position to read each other’s facial expressions. Which will help with understanding.
BTW — that’s different than reading each other’s minds.
A genuine smile is a universal signal for friendliness.
It’s a quick way to let your beloved know that you’re on her team. That you’re not out to get her. That you actually like her.
I want you to think back to a time when your partner was super uptight at a social gathering because she felt uncomfortable. And you caught her eye and smiled at her. Remember how she instantly relaxed a bit when you smiled at her?
Smiling at her during a tough conversation will help her relax, too.
And when she’s relaxed she’ll probably do that mirroring thing and smile back at you.
Then the tension you’re feeling will ease, in turn.
Smiles create beautiful positive feedback loops. So don’t miss out!
Become the smile leader during your next communication bout, and notice what happens.
4. Start calm and remain calm
Whether you’re the one bringing up a topic to talk about, or your partner is asking you to hear her out, be sure to start the conversation from a place of calm.
If you’re agitated and can’t get to calm, let her know you want to postpone the talk until you’re unflustered.
I’m telling you, your communicating will suck if you’re not in the calm emotional range. This range of calm, emotional equilibrium has been referred to as The Window of Tolerance.
I encourage you to work on developing the skills to regulate your emotional and physiological reactions so that you can remain in that zen zone throughout your conversation.
An easy self-calming trick you can start with is to take a slow, deep breath in, followed by a longer exhale. And do that 3 or 4 times in a row. Or 10, if you need to.
5. Use soothing touch
A great way to help your partner and yourself to stay in (or quickly return to) the window of tolerance, is by using gentle non-sexual touch.
You can reach out and take her hand, put your knee against hers, touch her arm, or even reach out for a hug.
A soothing touch will communicate friendliness and love. It will calm tension and remind you both that you’re in this together.
We’re on the same team, here. Not enemies.
Soothing touch goes a long way to set you up for a lovely communication dance.
6. Beware of your threatening gestures
Sitting eye-to-eye is one of the best ways to minimize threatening gestures. That’s because your brain will automatically respond to movements that you catch in your peripheral vision as more threatening.
But you also need to beware (and mindful) and take responsibility for your facial expressions, gestures, body postures, and tone of voice that your partner might interpret as threatening.
If you trip her threat response wire, the calm and effective communication stint will be over.
So, check yourself on threatening gestures such as:
- rolling your eyes
- raising your voice
- crossing your arms
- turning away from her when she’s speaking to you
- sighing loudly when you don’t like what you’re hearing
- clicking your tongue
- checking your phone
- flipping her off
Just.Don’t.Do.Those.Things. They’re rude and they’re communication wreckers.
7. Stay steady
Here’s what I mean by stay steady.
Sometimes it can be terribly challenging to share your vulnerable thoughts, feelings, wants, desires, and concerns with you partner.
Just go slow and take your time.
As my teachers, Dr. Ellyn Bader and Dr. Peter Pearson have taught me…
Remind yourself: This is an expression of who I am — It’s about me revealing myself and being willing to express my own thoughts and feelings. This process is about my willingness to take a risk to speak or discover my truth, and about increasing my ability to tolerate the expression of our differences.
Another time you’ll need to stay steady is when your partner is sharing with you something that she feels strongly about. Perhaps something that you disagree with.
It might be something she’s upset about. Or even a problem she’s having with you.
Time to stay steady so you can hear her out. It’s up to you to manage your reactions so that you remain curious without getting upset or defensive.
Try these 7 communication tips, today
You can set yourself up to have better communication immediately by incorporating these 7 non-verbal communication habits into your interactions right away.
In my next blog, I’ll be sharing a different set of communication skills that will help you have communication success every time you have a conversation with your babe. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, if your relationship is in trouble, and practicing some new communication skills feels like putting a bandaid on a broken leg, then consider coming to a Lesbian Couples Retreat in Denver. Or if you live in or near Denver, call to set up a free consultation for couples counseling. I promise, Lesbian Couples Therapy can help you get back to being happy and secure for good.