Communication is… creating a safe space together for sharing and expressing ourselves

Communication is at the heart of all healthy relationships. Good communication helps us navigate through life together and build trust and understanding between each other. Part of this is about communicating our boundaries in a respectful way.

Having healthy boundaries means respecting and valuing our own needs just as much as we value others' needs.

Building trust helps us feel safe to talk about what we want and need with the other person. When we are vulnerable with the other person, we create space for them to be vulnerable, feel safe, and trust us too. This goes both ways — which is good to realize when we're hesitating to take the first step towards the other person.

It requires some work in the process of getting to know and expressing yourself in relationships. Tune in and trust yourself. Sometimes, we don't set boundaries because we don't know what we want. But it's never too late to find out.

How do we build up the courage to be more open towards others?

Sometimes when we open up to others we won't be met the way we had hoped and wished for. That can hurt. At the same time – if we value being in relationships that deepen and grow over time – it is a risk we must be willing to take.

Mutual trust builds when we take small steps and someone has to have the courage to start. It may feel less risky not to be vulnerable in relationships as we're all afraid of being rejected or ridiculed.

Remember how our brains will interpret that as life-threatening? No wonder we are afraid. But decades of relationship research has pin-pointed vulnerability as one of the key features of long-lasting relationships. Not being vulnerable is choosing to let go of opportunities to deepen and grow our relationships.

Communication tips from 29k psychologist Jacqueline Levi:

1. Be clear and explicit.

When you talk about your needs and how you wish for them to be met with the other person, try to convey as much information as possible about how you are thinking and feeling.

2. Validate the other person by communicating that you hear them and that their experience makes sense.

When someone else is sharing something that they find difficult with us, validating their experience by expressing that we hear, see and understand them can help deepen the relationship. If we don't understand, we can ask questions like "Did I get this right, is this what you mean?" What do you need?" and "How can I help?".
You can also say "This seems hard for you" or ask "Can you tell me more on how that makes you feel?" Often there is no fixing needed, just listening and asking those questions shows that you care.

3. Bridge communication gaps with care.

If you notice a mismatch between what you want and what the other person wants and needs, try bringing it up with the person in a calm and non-accusatory way. Try not to make assumptions about the other person's thoughts and feelings, as assumptions make us less likely to be curious in trying to find out what's really going on.

Commitment is… choosing to stay through the ups and downs.

When two people are committed to one another, they both value the relationship as important. Commitment means that we have actively chosen the relationship and to invest in it with time, energy, care, and love - whether it's a friendship, a romantic, or a family relationship.

When difficult times come, the stronger the commitment both sides make, the higher drive there will be to keep going and working on the relationship. Asking ourselves whether and why a healthy relationship is significant to us can give us important information. Are we committed to making this work? Are we prepared to give time, effort and care into this relationship?

Building a healthy relationship takes time and commitment.

Having the awareness that no relationship is smooth sailing can help us set realistic expectations for what a healthy relationship is and what commitment looks like. It can also give us the courage and willingness to stick through and do our best to be present through both the good times and the rough patches.

Building strong and healthy relationships can be just like going to the gym. Is it always fun? Probably not. But just like dedicated physical training makes us healthy and builds our muscles when we put in the work during times when it feels fun, easy, and natural - as well as on the days when we don't feel like it - the same dedication builds a relationship in the long run.

All relationships go through ups and downs. What happens in life outside the relationship, like work stress, will also affect the relationship. No relationship is like in the fairytales – living happily ever after without making a real and committed effort in our everyday lives is highly unlikely.

This article was written by 29k psychologists Jacqueline Levi and Jenny Rickardsson, and freelance writer Alina Weckström. It is based on research from – among others – Sonja Lyubomirski, Mavis Tsai, Jonathan Kanter, Martin Seligman and Barbara Fredrickson.

"Vulnerability is the shit"

Listen to our lovely psychologist Jenny Rickardsson in this special episode of the Coming Home podcast on relationships. How do we handle and deepen them? How do we actually connect? As the co-hosts share their pivotal experiences, Jenny introduces us all to some useful keys for building a healthy relationship.

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