Healthy lives for young people
Relationships

Communication

What are the two things you like best about your relationship and what are the two things you like least? More than 5,000 people answered the same question as part of the Enduring Love? research project and communication was a common answer for both.

Here’s what people said they liked best about their relationship:

  1. Laughing together
  2. Sharing values and interests
  3. Being best friends
  4. Being cared for, and feeling supported
  5. Feeling safe and secure
  6. Being happy
  7. Trust
  8. Sharing a close relationship
  9. Talking and listening
  10. Being in love/being loved

And here’s what people said they liked least about their relationship:

  1. Poor communication 
  2. Arguments and/or conflicts 
  3. Housework and/or childcare not shared fairly 
  4. Issues with balancing work and home life 
  5. Few shared values and/or interests 
  6. Not enough couple time 
  7. Money issues 
  8. Living apart and/or housing issues 
  9. Different needs or expectations around sexual intimacy 
  10. Lack of closeness 

So you can see that what people liked most about their relationship were things that involve communicating with each other, like laughing together, sharing values and talking and listening. On the other hand, things like living apart, poor communication and arguments were the things that people liked least in their relationships.  Why don’t you jot down your answers and see how they compare?

Ways of communicating

So there’s no doubt that communication is good for relationships. Different people communicate in different ways. It could be talking, laughing, texts, written notes or the kind of communication that doesn’t need any words at all. But there’s no ‘right’ way to do it.

Below are some ideas that the Enduring Love? research shows work for other people.

Talking about relationships

I said to Ed, no matter how uncomfortable you feel, or how embarrassing something might be, or how bad you feel, we should always talk about things.

Enduring Love? interviewee

The Enduring Love? research showed that some people like talking about their relationship and being very open and honest with each other. That way you can build up trust and security. 

But not everyone finds it easy to be so open and that’s OK. If ‘big talks’ aren’t your thing, it’s important to say so. If you just clam up, your partner may worry that your feelings have changed. 

Make time to chat

Everyday conversations, about nothing in particular, are important for relationships. It doesn’t really matter what the conversations are about but what Enduring Love? showed was that it’s the feeling of sharing, familiarity and closeness that this sort of chat brings which was so valued.

With studies, work family and other stuff going on it may be hard to find time to check in with each other. Try to plan time into your week to just hang out, relax and chat without any interruptions. You could go for a walk or listen to music together. 

And remember, talking is great but listening to your partner is just as important. Being listened to makes us feel understood and cared for.


I try to be a sounding board when she needs to talk something through 

Enduring Love? interviewee

Having a laugh

The Enduring Love? research showed that laughing together is one of the things people like best about their relationships. It showed that it can be a great way to snap out of the strains of everyday life, it can be a release from stress and making each other laugh can bring you closer. Make sure laughter is part of your relationship – jump up and do a stupid dance when a favourite tune comes on or remember funny times you’ve had together.

Banter also featured in Enduring Love? as a good way to avoid or manage conflict. For example, carefully timed teasing can diffuse an argument before it escalates. It can also be a good way to flag something that you’ve been struggling to bring up in a more serious way. Whatever it is, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of banter just make sure it doesn’t get too over the top or hurtful.

Silence is golden

Communicating isn’t just about talking. It’s about saying nothing too. Making your partner a snack, enjoying a quick hug or catching each other’s eye when something funny happens can mean more than words sometimes. 

It can also be interesting to be together without talking. Try not talking for a while or sit together looking at each other without speaking. How does it feel?

Online communication

When it’s hard to find time to be together texts and chatting online can be a lifeline. Enduring Love? found that this type of communication can be a really valuable way to stay connected and to show love and appreciation. So when your partner pops into your mind, why don’t you  text them just to say you are thinking about them? Or send them a Snapchat about something that makes you both laugh?

Enduring Love? also showed that for some couples, emails or texts can also be an easier way (than face-to-face) to have or start a difficult conversation or to have a heart-to-heart. Everyone is different; just be mindful of the fact that this can lead to misunderstandings.

While online communication has its place, you can have too much of a good thing though. If you’re spending so much time online that you never actually see each other, it’s time for less Facebook and more face-to-face time. And remember that it’s easier for misunderstandings to happen online as well. When you can’t see somebody’s face and body language it’s easier to get the wrong end of the stick. And if you’re online when you’re together, this can also cause problems too. See our page on arguments which explores what some experts call ‘technoference’.

Love letters

Try communicating in a way your haven’t communicated before, for instance, try sending each other a love letter. It might be interesting to see how it influences what you say to one another and what you choose to express in that letter.

Arguments and bickering

There aren’t many couples who don’t argue sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of bickering. It can actually be a useful way to let each other know what’s on your mind and clear the air. Just try not to fall into the trap of always thinking you’re right and they’re wrong though. In the end this will drive you apart. 

Instead see if there are any ways to move closer to each other’s position. Or see if you can reach some sort of compromise. At the end of the day you may have to agree to differ and that’s fine too. See our pages about why arguments happen and dealing better with arguments which gives techniques for discussing things calmly.

Indirect communication

As you can see from the list of what people like best about their relationships, many of those things involve communication in some form. For example, sharing values. To know and explore what each of you believes in requires that you exchange ideas and listen to what one another says. Being best friends is also on the list. It’s easy to overlook how crucial friendship is in a relationship but you need to have more in common that just fancying each other. Think about the ways you and your best friends communicate and spend time together. Are there things you can bring to your relationship?

Communicating about communicating

This is what the experts call ‘meta communication’. Basically it means recognising that we all have our own ideas about the best ways to communicate. Sometimes our partners have very different ideas, and this can cause misunderstandings. 

For example, you may want your partner to just keep listening when you are talking about a problem. But they may keep butting in because they think you want them to help you fix it. It can be helpful to have a think about what the aims of your communication might be. For example, do you want to find something out, get support, problem solve, make a decision or just make a connection? Thinking about that and explaining it first can be a good start.

It can also be helpful to think about your communication habits and preferences. For instance, think about how the people around you when you were growing up communicated. Was butting in and talking over one another accepted or discouraged? And does one of you do that in your relationship? For one person it could be totally normal and for another it could be incredibly frustrating.

You may also find it helpful to think about how you prefer to communicate about things. For example, do you prefer to communicate: 

  • Straight away, or after having some time to think? 
  • Verbally or in a written form? (such as email, text and online chat) 
  • Face to face or at a distance, online or telephone? 
  • At particular times of day? (for example ‘not before I’ve had my morning coffee’, or ‘not last thing at night when you’re tired’) 
  • At home or somewhere neutral? 
  • In private or with other people around? 

Perhaps share some of these answers and the ways you prefer to communicate with your partner and ask them about theirs. That way you’ll have a better idea of where you’re both coming from. 

The 36 questions project

Psychologists in the US got pairs of strangers to ask each other 36 questions. The questions are divided into three blocks of 12 questions:

  • The first are designed to work out what makes each of you tick such as what you like doing and what you’d do on your perfect day
  • The second explores how you feel towards your friends and family, and what you’re most treasured and terrible memories are
  • The third aims to help you share some very personal things such as when you last cried and what secrets you have. There are also questions about what you have in common and what you like best about each other.

The researchers found that asking and answering intimate questions helped to bring people closer. Two of the people who took part actually fell in love, which points to just how important communication is. You and your partner may like to try the 36 questions together.

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