Relationship Communication Skills – The effects of responding to your partnerMarch 18, 2019
The most effective way to reduce the frequency of conflict in your relationship is to build goodwill and positive sentiment; put simply, by having a good friendship.
It’s very likely you have had a good friendship somewhere in the course of your relationship, so if it has faded recently, there are lots of ways to get it back. One of the most effective ways is by getting into the habit of responding to your partner. By that I mean something as simple as answering “yes”, or “uh huh”, or “that’s right”.
The frequency with which you respond to your partner (or not) is an extremely strong predictor of how successful your relationship will be. In fact, newlyweds still married after 6 years have been found to respond to their partner 86% of the time. Newlyweds divorced within 6 years however, have been found to respond to their partner 33% of the time. That’s because providing no (or limited) responses results in your partner initiating less interaction in the future and causes couples to drift apart (which is the number one reason for separation).
Responses can be positive, negative or neutral. Obviously, negative responses that are short, aggressive or critical are more likely to leave lasting bruises on the relationship; and no responses or disinterested responses will probably leave your partner feeling ignored and unvalued.
Responding to your partner will:
- Increase Trust– in fact this is one of the key skills to repairing trust if it has been broken.
- Establish emotional safety– it will increase your partner’s comfort level around you, and reduce stress in the relationship.
- Reduce the frequency of conflict – over time, stress and tension are reduced, and you and your partner are less likely to react to the things that typical trigger conflict in your relationship.
- Strengthen your friendship– responding to your partner generates goodwill and promotes friendship.
Regularly responding to your partner essentially buffers you and your partner from being on edge or overly reactive. By regularly responding to your partner you are telling them:
- you are interested in them
- you care about what they say
- you want to help them (even if you can’t right now)
- and that you accept them (even if you don’t accept all their behaviour).
You may not think what your partner has said needs a response (or even deserves one). But if you do respond in a positive way, you are building trust, emotional safety, and ultimately a strong friendship. Here are some examples of how simple a positive and neutral response that builds friendship can be:
Your Partner: “Gee, it’s a nice day”
Positive response: “Yes it is”
Your Partner: “Matthew [their child], has been testing today”
Neutral response: “Oh, how so?”
Couples often ask me in my Sydney Eastern Suburbs practice whether something this simple can make a real difference in their relationship. Regularly responding to your partner in a warm and interested way is one of the best ways to build a foundational friendship with your partner that will ultimately create a long lasting a happy relationship.
If you and your partner feel distant or are lacking the friendship you used to enjoy, a Couples Counsellor can help you develop the skills to improve your friendship and your relationship.
Author Alex Ryder
Navarra, R. Gottman J.M. & Gottman J.S. (2016) Sound Relationship House Theory and Relationship and Marriage Education. In J. Ponzetti (Ed.), Evidence Based Approaches to Relationship & Marriage Education(pp 93-107). New York, NY: Routledge