POV: You’re watching the Netflix series Little Things, Dhruv and Kavya are fighting. You begin to wonder if the situation between the two of them could have been handled differently.
Kavya: So, they didn’t fire you, you chose to quit?
Dhruv: Yes. That’s what happened. I feel better now, suddenly, about it.
Kavya: Screw feeling better, Dhruv! You took such a big step without even involving me in it. You should not have quit like that. Dhruv, this is a very irresponsible decision.
Dhruv: Dude, don’t say that "irresponsible" shit again, man! Enough with it. Repeating the same thing. I didn’t like it. I quit. Topic over. Finished.
Kavya: You are irresponsible, Dhruv. Can’t you admit it for once?
Dhruv: Why are you talking like this? You sound so rude. Remember how considerate I was when you wanted to quit?
Kavya: It was a long time ago. We are growing up now. I want to grow up in a particular direction. And when I wanted to quit, I talked to you about it, that’s where I am coming from. You should have talked to me about it.
Dhruv: What would be the use of that? My decision would still have been the same.
Kavya: Wow. Thanks, dude, for making me feel so important. In that case, you shouldn’t even have told me. Why tell me? What difference does it make? And how are you going to pay your parents’ loan? You don’t want to take money from me. I don’t even know what you want to do anymore. You’re just quitting everything.
Here's another way the conversation could have played out
Dhruv: I quit my job. Or they fired me. I don’t know.
Kavya: What? Are you okay? What happened?
Dhruv: Nothing. They saw that I wasn’t liking the work so they gave me an option and I chose to quit.
Kavya: I understand where you are coming from but I also feel disrespected when you don’t involve me in making big steps like these. I need to be able to feel like I have a part in making decisions as it affects both of us.
Dhruv: I am sorry you feel that way. It just happened. I have been thinking about it for a while and I wasn’t happy here. I wasn’t enjoying the work.
Kavya: Sometimes we all have to do things that we don’t like. I feel you could have just carried on for a while until you cleared your parents’ loan. I want you to be able to take responsible decisions rather than acting on impulse. And if you were still so unhappy, we would have figured out something else together as a team. I just want to know if you can talk to me about things like this like I can talk to you. Remember when I wanted to quit? We weighed the pros and cons together.
Dhruv: You’re right. I should have involved you in this before. It would have made both of us feel better. I hope we can figure out things together now.
Kavya: Of course!
While communication doesn’t guarantee a happy relationship, it enhances the quality of the relationship and both partners begin to feel heard and cared for.
Why is communication a necessary medium to build relationships?
Communication doesn’t mean keeping things to yourself or suppressing your emotions to be polite. It is expressing yourself more effectively so that what you intend to say actually gets conveyed.
Good communication helps people in understanding each other’s limitations and in respecting boundaries.
It develops a more comfortable space that allows the people involved in a relationship to be more open and honest. When you can talk more openly and honestly, it is easier to handle arguments and address the problems in the relationship.
Rather than getting caught up with feelings of resentment, communication lets you take the necessary steps to improve your relations.
Characteristics of Healthy Communication
Active Listening: Paying attention to what your partner is saying, being empathetic and mindful towards their emotions makes them feel loved and heard.
Reflecting on what people have said is also equally important and satisfying. It not only confirms that you were present in the conversation but creates a space where your partner feels secure.
It further allows them to share their heart and mind more openly improving the overall connection.
“I” statement: Using “I” statements lets you take responsibility for your feelings and make your partner not feel attacked while still tactfully describing a problem.
Unproductive statement: You never call me first; you don’t care about me.
Productive statement: I feel hurt when you don’t call me, I’m afraid you’ve stopped caring.
Constructing Boundaries: Boundaries define a person’s identity and limitations. It can be physical or emotional or both. Setting boundaries and respecting others’ boundaries is a crucial step in any relationship.
While it is important to set a boundary for a healthy relationship, it is also important to note that boundaries aren’t rigid guidelines but a negotiation between two people who aren’t on the same page.
If you are not comfortable with something, you don’t have to do it just because your partner says so. Have a conversation around it so that you can find a middle ground.
Remember, Boundaries are constructed to have a good framework in a relationship, not to have control over each other.
Tone: When you’re delivering a message to your partner, your tone of voice interprets if the message has been conveyed or not.
Oftentimes, when you use a tone of voice that is not acceptable to your partner, the message gets unheard or is taken badly on their end.
If you feel agitated or angry at something, it is advised to take time to calm yourself down before you have the conversation so as not to lose your listener.
Signs of Problematic Communication
It is important to recognize the signs and to acknowledge how much you are ready to invest when you spot signs of problematic communication.
Some signs that your relationship is getting affected by unhealthy communication traits include:
Black and white thinking: This happens when one sees things in absolute extremes. It is a cognitive distortion where people tend to look at things in absolute, all-or-nothing categories.
I am an amazing human being, or I am a constant disappointment.
You are the best person I know, or I can't think of anyone worse than you
Being in a relationship with someone who thinks in extremes can be really hard as you cannot seem to meet their expectations.
While it’s okay to think like this from time to time but if you make a habit of it, it can disrupt your relationships.
Jumping to Conclusions: It is when people make negative assumptions based on little or no evidence. It is a pattern of negative thinking that occurs in two ways: mind reading and fortune telling.
Mind Reading: Assuming that people are reacting or thinking negatively about you without having any evidence to back up that thought.
Fortune Telling: Foretelling that things will turn out badly or assuming the worst happening before even the situation has occurred.
Some examples of this cognitive distortion might be:
This relationship is anyway going to end, I might as well ruin it now.
I know exactly what you mean!
You didn’t do this for me last month, you must think I am not the one.
When you find yourself jumping to conclusions, ask yourself, can there be other explanations for the situation that makes more sense?
Blame Game: It is when one blames the other for every shortcoming in the relationship. Even when they make a mistake, they tend to shift the blame onto others.
They tend to use words like “always” and “never” bringing back the old arguments into the present discussion.
You always find new ways to hurt me.
You never understand how I feel.
When you blame someone, they feel attacked and their default instinct is to protect their self-image instead of acknowledging your feelings.
Magnification or Minimization: It is when someone blows things way out of proportion or shrinks the positive aspects of the circumstance inappropriately like exaggerating a mistake or dismissing or overlooking something special.
This can result in constant arguments where the other person might end up feeling undervalued if not taken care of this cognitive distortion.
Rigid Boundaries: When somebody builds a wall around themselves where they always keep others at a distance or don’t allow them to be in is known as a rigid boundary.
To protect yourself, you’re quick to cut people out of your life. You don’t believe in second chances. You don’t make exceptions to be flexible.
This indeed results in forming only surface-level relationships where people in your life always have to be cautious to protect your feelings or feel scared to communicate things to you.
Passive-Aggressive Behaviour: Passive-Aggression is a way of expressing negative emotions indirectly rather than directly.
Avoiding conversations, giving the silent treatment, making sarcastic responses in serious conversations, sulking, etc. are some of the signs of passive-aggressive behaviors.
It can be really frustrating to be on the receiving end, to wonder what has happened, to read between the lines when your partner doesn’t communicate their needs properly.
Remember to address these behaviors by expressing your feelings, not by assigning blame so that your partner finds it easy to open up.
Once you understand what causes behaviors like this, it becomes easier to deal with them.
Everybody has their relationship patterns depending on their history or how they have been raised or their environment growing up.
If you relate to the signs above, it doesn’t mean that this will always be your default communication style. You can improve your communication skills if you’re willing to learn and unlearn some things.
Being good at verbal communication might not be enough if your non-verbal communication says something else.
Imagine saying “I am so excited to see you” with a cold straight face.
Our body language, tone of voice, and our facial expressions also tend to send a message.
Saying something while giving different non-verbal cues makes it confusing for the receiver to know what you are trying to convey or to validate the truthfulness of the statement.
Check if your verbal and non-verbal communications align together.
Tips to improve your communication skills
It can be painful when the message that you wanted to convey is perceived by the receiver differently.
These tips not only help you in romantic relationships but also in improving your relationships with your friends and family. These can also be used in your professional life.
Use these strategies so that you don’t get lost in translation:
“Us vs the problem” not “you vs me”: We often tend to find out whose mistake it is when something goes wrong instead of addressing the problem.
Blaming someone puts them in a position to defend themselves and protect their self-identity which they have worked for their whole life.
Remind yourself to focus on the desired outcome of the conversation rather than proving your partner’s point wrong.
Know your Attachment Style: Attachment Styles are the ways you get attached to people that influence your behavior and attitude towards them.
Attachment Styles often emerge in childhood based on your relationship with your primary caregivers which can continue to affect your adult attachment style.
Becoming aware of your and your partner’s default attachment styles can help you work in a particular direction.
Know about your attachment style here:
Address the Elephant in the room: While some conversations might be difficult to have, remember that addressing uncomfortable issues will only bring comfort to the relationship.
You might be avoiding the issue for several reasons like the fear of losing what you already have, difficulty in expressing your feelings, or finding the right words to say.
While all your emotions are completely valid, ignoring the problem doesn’t make the problem disappear. Once you start keeping up things to yourself, it becomes even harder to open up honestly.
If it seems impossible, try to start with baby steps by communicating one thing at a time until you are comfortable enough to deliver the message entirely.
Respond instead of React: It is wise to delay the conversation when it isn’t leading to anything useful or it seems like you are hurting each other more instead.
While we are angry, we tend to say things that we don’t mean but it can still hurt your partner where they can linger on to your words whether you meant it or not.
Put those procrastination skills of yours to good use and take some to calm down and then have a conversation rationally instead of reacting immediately.
Create Safe Words: Try to come up with a safe word. A word that you can use to convey to your partner that this argument is hurting you beyond your limits so that you can take your time before you have the conversation again.
It is advised to use funny safe words or something that have a meaning for both of you so that it also helps to lighten up the situation a bit.
The significance of communication is to create a better understanding among each other, not sugar-coating your words to avoid conflicts.
While communication alone cannot guarantee a happy relationship, it for sure helps you create a connection where you feel heard and validated. It also enhances intimacy between partners.
If you and your partner can’t seem to improve the communication in your relationship, consider taking therapy so that you both can express your emotions freely. A mental health professional is trained to recognize negative patterns of communication that you might not be able to and give advice and tips on how to cope.