There are things we say to each other in a relationship that communicate how we feel, what we think and what we hope for. While how we say those things is equally important, sometimes it is the content itself that needs a little extra attention. Becoming close and comfortable with someone is deeply valuable, that is, until we forget how truly special this gift is.
We take for granted and feel entitled to its benefits without remembering how expensive the vulnerability and sacrifice are. When words are so powerful to what grows in our relationships, we must make sure what we’re saying and what we’re not saying fosters the connection we desire to have together.
Here are three phrases that can improve communication in relationships:
These two words can seem trivial, get overlooked or become categorized as a conditional element in a relationship: “I’ll thank you when I think you do something worthy of being thanked.” Yet, it’s not just about beauty being in the eye of the beholder; the way beauty is perceived says a lot about the beholder. When this phrase is absent from our lips, it is a symptom that our heart has hardened and kindness has been drained. We can lose what it means to cherish a moment or someone in that moment.
Cultivating appreciation and gratitude changes us. It opens us to our gifts and to our influence. When we say thank you, we bear witness to what has been meaningful in the actions of another. It’s a phrase that calls out hope about who we are and who we can be.
The ability to be honest and humble enough to admit fault may be one of the hardest acts of intimacy. We’ve become quite clever at getting out of it, too, unfortunately. We apologize the other person felt a certain way, which is merely dismissive and pejorative, thus the opposite of the point. Or, we say we’re sorry as a means to come to the quickest conclusion or resolution, saying whatever will appease our partner for the sake of short-term peace. Other times, we say it without it costing ourselves anything or we don’t say it at all because somehow it is too costly and our ego too fragile. Yet, it doesn’t take a miracle to break from defensiveness and let go of the need to win or be right; we can learn how to do this.
To be sorry is a discipline that does the hard work of taking into account the other person’s feelings, perspective and sensitivities. We lean into truth, vulnerability and forgiveness to mend a breach in the relationship. So, grow up and get good at apologizing. Say you’re sorry and acknowledge what for. Find ways to make restitution and talk through what needs to change. Confession grows hope for the future. When we apologize, our mistakes don’t have the last word.
Ok, stop saying this one. Eliminate it from your vocabulary. You don’t verbally convince someone you’re listening, that merely proves their fear that they can’t talk to you because the conversation now is about how you are, in fact, not listening. There are, of course, times when you cannot be fully present and it’s good to be honest about that so a right time can be made. But don’t multitask with someone’s story. They are giving you a piece of themselves, not to fix or dismiss, but to share in. Be part of it. And they’ll let you know if you understood them or not.
Our words matter and make a difference. We do our relationships a great disservice if we over-complicate or neglect foundational anchors like gratitude, confession and hospitality. The work isn’t to craft the next grand, creative gesture so much as it is to create a lifestyle where we practice acts of fidelity towards each other. It’s about the postures we take with one another. There is no formula or magic powerful enough to replace authenticity. Simple but genuine expressions of affection and care are profound. Think about how these phrases might affect the impression your common language makes with the person closest to you. And today, find something to say that makes a positive difference.