It is tough to figure out what makes a relationship work or what we need to do to make sure we can form healthier and better relationships with our loved ones and friends. That is why it is important that we learn the fundamentals of maintaining healthy relationships by starting with mindful communication.
I have had several friendships and relationships crumble over time, and I always felt confused and defeated by them. I wondered if it was an issue with me or with them, or was it both of us? Maybe, it just was not meant to be. But after sitting down and running through a workshop by A Kind Place on mindful communication, I realised the error in my ways. It took my time to realise but I was naïve and unaware, blindsided by the amount of effort needed to maintain the relationship.
Two tips were all I needed to realise my mistake. I was guided by Dr. Tanaphong Uthayaratana, or Mind, a counselling psychologist from Thailand, working with A Kind Place. He taught me that what I lacked were communication and understanding. Understanding meant understanding ourselves and others while communication meant sharing what we mean to each other. Without communication, we would not be able to understand each other, leading to the downfall of our relationships.
The mindful communication course breaks down the idea of mindful communication in relationships and how we can use it to strengthen and maintain our relationships, be it with friends, loved ones and partners. Mindful communication can be separated into two parts, mindful listening, and mindful speaking.
Mindful listening refers to understanding the message that the other party is trying to get across. This entails paying attention to the other party and taking an interest in what they are saying. Mindful speaking refers to maintaining focus while paying attention to how the other party reacts to what you’re saying. You may clarify your message as required by monitoring their facial expressions, body language, etc. When I was having a rough patch with one of my closest friends, we were struggling to figure out what the other was truly upset about. I then decided that I would call him and ask him to resolve the issue. We talked for 2 hours and I did everything I could to fix our relationship.
- Listening without judgment: Having someone open up to you means they trust you enough not to judge what they say. Not judging involves keeping an open mind and allowing them to speak. You do not need to agree with what they say, but do not put them down or shame them.
- Listening with empathy: While listening, it is important to try and understand what they feel. Think about a time when you were in a similar situation to them, how might you feel? Or think about a time when you felt sad, hurt, or in a conflict, what was that like?
- Reflecting to show understanding: Sometimes we can show understanding by repeating what they have said. This shows that we are actively listening to them.
- Do not interrupt: It’s common for us to want to interrupt. Sometimes people say things that we might not agree with or we want to jump in to give our opinions. In order to give listen to them 100%, let them finish before you say what you want to say
In my situation with my friend, I started by asking him what was on his mind, why he was upset and what went wrong. Though hesitant at first, I provided him reassurance that it was safe to share. He slowly opened up to me and explained the matter. I listened carefully and tried to understand every word he said, making me recognise the error in my ways.
- Being aware of the words that are used and how they might impact the other person (Being aware of their facial expressions, body language, their responses): Take note of how they move and how they react. Any form of reaction is important to mindful speaking
- Speaking with kind intention: We want to speak with the intent of understanding, not just wanting to force our ideals on them. Speak with a positive tone and mindset
- Speaking without judgment or criticism: When we speak, our goal is to have them understand not to judge or criticise the things that they have said. We should never belittle them in any way.
After listening to my friend, I shared my side of the story, voicing my own issues to my friend. It took a while for me to get my message across but we later arrived at a consensus. I am truly grateful for the guidance that the mindful communication workshops have given me and do recommend it to others. It has helped mend my relationship with my friend and made a huge impact on my life, giving me a different perspective on how to communicate in relationships.
As we grow to understand each other, it may become apparent that further steps may be required to maintain our relationships. These two simple tips may seem obvious and simple but they are extremely significant when it comes to a better and healthy relationship. We may not realise it but a lot of the time, we as humans forget to just take a step back and communicate to try and understand what the other party, be it one person or many people, is saying.
Relationship counselling helps you identify toxic relationships
I think one of the most obvious ways to find out what type of relationship you are in, is through your daily life with your partner. For example, when handling troubles. When you and your partner have a fight or face a problem, what happens? Do both of you talk it out and be open about it? Or do both of you shut each other out and avoid talking about it? In healthy relationships, couples are able to admit their wrongdoings and talk openly about them without having the fear of losing the other. However, in toxic relationships, couples often refuse to apologise and admit their flaws and just brush them off with no proper closure.
Toxic relationships are not only limited to physical abuse but emotional too. I have seen many relationships, especially in traditional Asian settings, where emotional abuse happens frequently. And yet, some are clueless about these toxic ties in their own nutshell.
Signs of a toxic relationship from a counsellor in Singapore
- Constant Blaming – If you or your partner constantly blame the other when bad things happen but only takes responsibility when good things happen, it is a sign of a toxic relationship.
In contrast, a healthy relationship is when both parties have a sense of responsibility when facing problems and can be understanding toward each other.
- Being Jealous or Dishonest – In toxic relationships, you or your partner might be over-possessive or jealous towards the other’s family and/or friends. This leads to misunderstandings and dishonesty. The toxic partner might tend to control the other by restricting their social circle.
In contrast, healthy relationships have an understanding towards each other and give one another personal space and freedom, allowing each partner to express their individuality while having shared moments together.
- Denial and Gaslighting – Toxic partners would deny the fact that they have a negative effect on the other. They tend to control and manipulate the events to make it seem that they are always right, which is gaslighting. Gaslighting means to manipulate a person psychologically to make that person doubt their perception and sanity.
In contrast, healthy partners would accept and own up to mistakes, and try to make a positive impact on the other.
One sign which I have observed from my interaction within Asian families or couple relationships is guilt-tripping. In Chinese, we call it 道德绑架, which translates to moral kidnapping. Many partners would restrict their partner’s freedom or actions by implying moral values. For example, the toxic partner restricts the other to go out and work, implying that if he/she goes to work, the house would be a mess, nobody to take care of the baby or the old parents. This leads to the other feeling guilty and taking the blame for being “selfish”. This scenario often happens in many relationships, and it is a sign of a toxic relationship.
Tips for getting out of a toxic relationship
Being in a toxic or unhealthy relationship does not spell doom. If both partners are able to recognise and are willing to work on improving the relationship, there is still hope. We can always try rebuilding a toxic/unhealthy relationship or learn how to build a healthier one in the future. Here are some tips:
- Be mindful: The very first step to improving a relationship is recognising that there is a problem. Learning to take a pause, reflecting on what’s going on, recognising each of your roles in the relationship, and wanting to consciously make change is the key to moving forward in a healthier way
- Try using open communication with your partner: A healthy relationship will require a lot of communication between partners to create understanding. Set aside time to speak to each other and try putting yourself in the other’s shoes when dealing with a problem. Use the “I statement”, reflect on what your partner is saying, listen instead of trying to defend yourself. Pause before responding.
- Being honest: A healthy relationship requires a lot of trust between each other, and honesty is the best way to achieve that.
- Be respectful: A healthy relationship involves respecting each other’s privacy and space (i.e. having healthy boundaries).
- Be affectionate and caring: A healthy relationship can also face fights or quarrels, but it is important to compromise and not emotionally abuse the other. Couples should show appreciation to each other from time to time to let the other person know how much they care.
If you have tried using our tips and tried working things out with your partner, but you still feel like you are in a constant battle or struggle in your relationship, it might be a sign that your relationship needs more help. One way to get a better understanding and improve your relationship is through Gottoman couples therapy.
Research has shown that couples relationship education might help buffer the harmful effects of repeated conflict in close relationships. Relationship counselling allows a professional to help you discover the root cause of your major points of conflict, understand each other better, improve your communication and conflict resolution skills, and help determine your next step in the relationship.
If you are having conflicts in your relationships or want to learn how to communicate better, you can book a session with our therapist Dr. Mind. He has years of experience in working with couples and improving relationships.
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