“A person isn’t who they are during the last conversation you had with them — they’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
For most couples, the laughter, the romance and the passion come easily — at least in the beginning. What’s the secret to making the honeymoon phase last forever?
Couples involved in loving, sustainable relationships have one thing in common: the ability to have courageous conversations with one another, according to Maura Koutoujian, a life and career coach with Jody Michael Associates.
Conversations over high-stakes, emotional issues often require courage. “Interestingly, ‘coeur’ happens to be the French word for heart,” she points out.
As Maura explains, most couples acknowledge the need for — and want — open communication in their intimate relationships, but aren’t exactly clear about what that means, or how to achieve it.
“Open communication depends upon and builds trust. It does not mean talking without a filter, nor is it about fixing or changing the other person. Rather, it involves being truly present and suspending all judgment.
“The quality of a couple’s relationship is reflective of the quality of their conversations, so it’s essential to fine-tune their ability to communicate effectively with one another.”
The Importance of Communication: Conflict, Connection and Commitment
Have you ever boasted that you and your partner know each other so well, you can read each other’s minds? While from time to time that may be true, you can never really know for sure what another person is thinking.
Conversations are the key to keeping the lines of communication clear between you and your partner, particularly when it comes to resolving conflict, deepening your connection and addressing commitment:
Arguments are not necessarily relationship red flags. Maura says, “In a healthy relationship, anger and engagement can actually create an opportunity to flourish. Conflict can foster effective communication by helping partners articulate their needs and expectations.”
In our life coaching practice, we offer several rules of thumb for managing conflict in a respectful manner, including the following:
- Find a convenient time and quiet space to talk that will allow both partners to be fully present (agree to turn off cell phones and close laptops!).
- Suspend judgment while actively listening to what your partner is saying.
- Always let your partner complete their thought before interjecting your point of view — no interrupting!
- Maintain eye contact and open body language; avoid dismissive nonverbal expressions like shooing arm waves or eye rolls.
- Refrain from sarcasm, mockery or placating language.
- Stick to the current issue without drudging up a litany of stored-up complaints or ancient history.
True human connection creates space, where there is room for love to grow.
“Connection is all about giving and receiving,” according to Maura. “Courageous conversations promote deep connection that comes as a result of mutual understanding, allowing both partners to feel heard.”
During these conversations, showing interest in what your partner is saying, conveying your support, expressing affection (verbally and non-verbally) and accepting your partner’s feelings are all ways to enhance your collective “heart space,” intensifying the connection between you and your partner.
“You complete me” may have been a poignant line in Jerry Maguire, but in reality, two halves never come together to make a whole person in a relationship. When you’re in an emotionally committed relationship, you promise to be loyal to your partner — but it doesn’t end there. Maura emphasizes the importance of the commitment you make to bring the best version of yourself to the relationship.
“In our life coaching practice, we often see people lose sight of their individuality in the context of a relationship,” she says. “While they often see this as a short-term solution to smooth over conflict or mask other problems in their relationship, it never works in the long run.”
In these cases, you may need to have a courageous conversation with yourself. What are your strengths, and what areas do you need to work on improving? What are your own goals and aspirations?
You and your partner were attracted to one another for your unique differences, she says. “When both partners maintain a clear sense of self, a healthy relationship can flourish.”
What have you found to be the key to a long-lasting, healthy relationship?