You’ve probably heard that communication is the key to having a good relationship. Well you’ve heard right, and the science is there to back it up.
Harvard professor Dr. Robert Waldinger completed a 75-year study on human happiness. He discovered that the number one indicator of an excellent human experience is the quality of people’s relationships, and the quality of communication in those relationships is what makes them great.1
According to Jay Shetty, studies show a person spends about 80 percent of our daily communication spewing out an average of 16,000 words.2 How much thought do you put into those words? Are you intentional about what you are saying, or are your words said in reaction or response to how you feel or how someone is making you feel?
Data from a Moscow Meditation Group study states that communication problems lead to 65 percent of divorces, followed by a couple’s inability to resolve issues at 43 percent. For men, nagging and complaining were the most significant issues, followed by a lack of appreciation. Validation of feelings and opinions ranked at the top for women.
“We're spending more time complaining to our spouses, than appreciating them,” Jay Shetty shares. “We spend more time telling them our issues [with them] than we do their good qualities.”
The breakdown in communication carries over into how we connect with our partners. When you lack communication and connection, your relationship starts to falter. In this article, Jay Shetty shares eight principles of communication that can drastically help improve your relationship with your partner.
Learn to Communicate with Yourself
When you learn to communicate with yourself and understand your own needs in a practical way, you can connect with others in a more profound way.
A great way to increase communication with yourself is to set a timer each morning for three minutes and ask yourself what is one thing you need to do to make today a great day. At the end of the day, set the timer for three minutes again and reflect on your day. Note how you’re feeling and what you need for your night to end on a high note.
“When you learn how to communicate with yourself, you're learning to be empathetic and understanding,” Jay Shetty explains. “You're learning to validate your own feelings and appreciate what it is that you're truly looking for. All those things that you want from someone else, you're starting to do them for yourself.”
Describe Your Feelings Accurately
Harvard conducted a study that states humans use a minimal emotional vocabulary. They called it the emotions list. The five words overused when talking about things are good, bad, okay, fine, and hmm. Although it’s very common to respond with one of those words, they don’t leave much room for connection.3
“When someone asks you how you're doing and you say ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’, you give them very little to connect on,” explains Jay Shetty.
Does that mean you have to divulge every personal detail to everyone you talk to? Of course not. It’s understandable if you want to keep some things to yourself, but if you’re struggling, there comes a time when you need to tell the right person. Jay Shetty explains when you get more specific about diagnosing how you feel, you can help others understand.
“When you validate your feelings in advance and are sure of them, you can communicate them better to other people,” Jay Shetty shares. “Instead of just sharing a complaint, you could say, ‘Hey, this is what I've been dealing with, and this is what I'm struggling with’ rather than lashing out and complaining about so many other things.”
Once you have filtered through your thought process and grasped what your struggles are, you can communicate them to your partner in a better way for both of you.
Be Willing to Experiment in Your Communication
Have you ever thought, “What if?”
What if you change your hairstyle? What if you move across the country? What if you step out of your comfort zone and take the plunge into a new job? The phrase “What if?” makes you think about possible outcomes, says Jay Shetty.
Experimenting in your communication is the same thing. Perhaps you have thought about moving to a new city. Why not ask your partner what their thoughts are with no judgment or forced outcome, and see where the conversation goes.
You can have a lot of fun together asking each other related questions. What are the pros and cons? What would be fun about it? What things would you like to do there? Are there drawbacks?
“It can be hypothetical,” Jay Shetty explains. “It doesn't have to be true or forced, and it doesn't have to be a real outcome. The whole point is to entertain the idea without the judgment of reality.”
Open the lines of communication in a way that allows you and your partner to have fun discussing something without feeling shut down, closed off, or feeling like the other person doesn’t care.
When you share something exciting with your partner, don’t be discouraged if they don’t share your excitement. Not everyone experiences things in the same way. Your partner may be excited for you even though they don’t share the same initial reaction you had.
Repeat What You Heard
To make sure you understand your partner, practice repetition. Repetition is simply repeating what the other person said and what you heard.
“First, repeat what they said so they know you actually listened,” Jay Shetty says. “Then repeat what you heard, followed by how it made you feel. We respond in the opposite order. We say what we feel first, then don't even get to anything else.” This can cause a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication.
For example, consider this illustration. Let’s say a friend tells you they are upset about something you did, and you respond with how you feel. This can create tension because you’re not acknowledging their feelings.
Instead, respond with, “So when I did that, it made you feel upset?” Ask for specifics so you can understand, then explain what your intentions were and how you feel about the situation. First, tell them it was not intentional and that you feel bad about the problem. Then give them the reason it happened. Jay Shetty says this can change the conversation around so that you can both explore your feelings in a positive light.
Separate Content and Context
Listening is an essential part of communication. When you are a good listener, you can distinguish between content and context.
Don’t be distracted when you are trying to communicate with someone. If you need to, tell them to come back later so you can finish what you are doing. Ask them to come back in a given time frame. Finish that call you’re on or text, then put your phone away. Give the other person your full attention when you communicate.
“When someone responds to you or says something to you, generally we take their content to be everything without looking at the context,”Jay Shetty explains. “When you are communicating, you need to separate content from context.”
If you are having a bad day and someone asks a question, your response is short and direct. You may have said yes to the question, but the delivery was anything but “yes.”
Don’t be distracted when you’re listening. What the other person is hearing is your context, but they don’t know that you are having a bad day, so they take your response personally.
“The context is not about you,” Jay Shetty shares. “The content may be about you, but the context is what is driving the way you're receiving the content.”
Communicate How Your Plans Might Affect Your Partner
Communication is vital in relationships, but how you communicate is also important.
If you have an upcoming event that affects you and your partner, start by saying how that event will affect your partner, then how it affects you, and finally how it affects you both.
For example, if you have a work trip, you could say to your partner, “I have a work trip I need to attend, so think about what you are doing during that time. I would like for you to join me if you are able.”
The intention is to let them know that you are thinking about how it will affect them rather than how it will affect you.
Four Pillars to Building Trust
Lack of trust in a relationship can be hard to overcome. The problem is we are always trying to build trust. According to Jay Shetty, the only way to build trust is to stop building trust.
“If you want to build trust, you need to use and focus on qualities that build trust,” says Jay Shetty. “There are four pillars to building trust—vulnerability, simplicity, transparency, and reliability. If you want someone to trust you, you have to show vulnerability. You have to show you are transparent, you have to explain things simply, and you have to be reliable.”
These are the qualities that you need to look for in others. Most people trust someone because they are nice or attractive. We throw around the words love and trust, but we forget what it takes to build those things.
“Instead of trying to get people to trust me or trying to see if people are trustworthy, I want to see if I can be vulnerable with them and If I can trust them with my vulnerability,” Jay Shetty shares. “I want to see how they respond to it.”
Simplicity is communicating in a way that is easy to understand. Speak simply, and leave out the big words and the intellectual tone. Reliability and transparency are exactly how they sound. Reliability is doing what you say you’re going to do in a timely fashion. Transparency is being willing to show things as they are.
Make Time to Connect
Disconnect from tech to make time to connect with your partner. Put down the phone, close your computer, log out of social media, and set aside time to spend quality time with your loved one. It doesn’t need to be every day, but pencil in time weekly and monthly for that special time to connect and enjoy each other. When you make that time intentional, it will change things for the better.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “8 Principles of Communication” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.