Effective Communication

Communication is crucial in relationships of all kinds, not just romantic or sexual ones. Effective communication ensures that all partners feel comfortable and positive and have their boundaries respected, but sometimes important conversations can be difficult. Here are some tips and strategies for healthy communication:

General tips:  The importance of communication isn’t limited to romantic or sexual relationships! All relationships can benefit from good communication, which benefits teamwork, decision-making, problem solving, and can help prevent conflict. Here are some general guidelines for healthy communication.

  • It may seem obvious, but the most important part of communication is being honest. Relationships are built on trust, and trust is nurtured through honesty. The majority of us aren’t mind-readers, so when something’s wrong and we want people to know, communicating it is the best remedy.

  • If you want to start a serious conversation with your partner, be conscientious of the timing and the environment in which it will take place, and talk in person if you can. Sometimes urgent situations arrive at inconvenient times, but if you can, try to manage the circumstances such that you and your partner can devote full attention to dialogue.

  • Prepare if you need to. Sometimes putting thoughts and feelings into words can be difficult, so writing out your thoughts can be helpful in organizing and clarifying what you want to convey during the conversation.

  • Pay attention to your partner. Think about what your partner is saying and why they are saying it. Your common goal should be to resolve the matter at hand, and mutual understanding should facilitate working as a team. Anticipating what your partner may be thinking or feeling can be a way of showing empathy, but be sure to confirm whether your suppositions are correct or not.

  • Similarly, pay attention to the signals you are sending out during the conversation. Things like the kind of language you use and your body language (making eye contact, facing your partner, etc.) can have a huge effect on how your messages are received. For instance, using “I” statements can avoid putting your partner on the defensive, as substituting “you” with “I” or “we” can soften the tone of your message. For example, consider “I feel like we haven’t been as close lately” instead of “You’ve been distant with me.”

  • Although it’s likely that you have things you want to say during any conversation, listening to your partner keeps the discussion from becoming a monologue. Be respectful, avoid interrupting, and practice active listening by affirming and restating what your partner is communicating to be sure you understand their perspective.

  • Finally, keep stress in check. Although emotions can be high during important conversations, stress can lead to misreading other people, sending negative nonverbal signals and, reacting in a way you’ll regret later. Agree beforehand with your partner that you are both free to pause, manage your stress levels, and recollect your thoughts.

Communication & sexual relationships: Communicating about sex can be awkward, but is the best way to ensure that the situation is safe, consensual, and fun. Below are some sex-specific tips for communicating with your partner.

  • At the core of sexual communication is consent. Affirmative, enthusiastic consent is a requirement for sexual activity. Consent should be freely given and can be withdrawn at any time. Lack of a “no” does not imply consent--nor does being in a relationship with someone, earlier consent to different acts, etc. For more information about consent, sexual health, and decision making, check out the InterCourse workshop

  • Share responsibility for preventing unintended pregnancy and STI transmission.

  • Check in frequently as the situation changes/develops/escalates--just because your partner was okay with one kind of sexual activity doesn’t necessarily mean they want to transition to another.

  • Try to make important decisions together beforehand, such as what kind of birth control to use, that might be difficult to discuss and think through in the heat of the moment.

  • Never make assumptions about what someone is thinking, feeling, or wants during sex.

  • No one in a sexual relationship should ever feel manipulated or controlled. For more information about what sexual or reproductive manipulation can look like, follow this link to Planned Parenthood.

  • This checklist from Scarleteen can be a good starting point for communication with your partner about your sex life, or just a helpful way to check in with your own desires and comfort levels.