Bethany will never forget the last meal out she had with the man she thought she was going to marry.
They’d gone to their favorite Mexican restaurant, the scene of so many happy times. They ate in silence. She asked him how work was. He grunted. She asked him if he had plans for the weekend. He shrugged.
His phone vibrated. When he looked down, she knew she’d lost him. He spent the rest of the meal on his phone while she watched the other diners. She saw couples smiling and chatting. She felt painfully alone.
Conversation is the dipstick of a healthy relationship.
If you’re not talking—especially if you’re not talking about things that matter—you need to top up your “oil.” Conversation keeps the friction in a relationship from flaring up into fights.
But why do you need to talk when you’ve been texting all day?
Sometimes you feel closer to him on social media than when he’s sitting next to you on the sofa. He seems to share more when you’re not face-to-face. Something about having that physical distance helps him close the emotional distance.
John and Julie Gottman have been studying couples’ conversations for forty years. They even created a lab furnished like an apartment so they could study couples’ everyday interactions. And their conclusion—as described in their most recent book Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love—is that quality conversation keeps us together.
When we talk with our loved ones in a way that’s positive, attentive, and curious, our relationships thrive.
But time to talk is hard to come by these days. We’re busy. We’d rather share a meme. When we do talk, it’s practical: “What’s happening this weekend?” “Did you pick up the mail?” “What did your boss say?”
Besides, if you had an hour to sit down with your guy—no phone, no TV, and no distractions—what would you even talk about? You already know everything about him.
No wonder one study found that couples who’d been married for 50 years only spoke to each other for a total of 3 minutes during a 1-hour dinner. (The study found that unmarried couples fell silent only 20% of the time.)
Is it time for conversation to make a comeback in your relationship?
Here are 3 tips that can start you on your journey to a lifetime of connection.
#1. Don’t text when you could talk.
It’s tempting to have important conversations by text. You can take your time to think about the wording. You don’t have to see his reaction when he reads it. You can play it cool.
But talking connects you in way texting can’t. When you text him, your text is just one of many he’s received. He doesn’t have to pay attention. All you’re giving him are some words.
When you talk in person, the words you’re saying are a fraction of the message he’s receiving. He’s taking in your facial expressions, gestures, posture. What you’re saying means more to him.
It’s also harder to run away from a real person. He can’t ignore you; you’re standing right there. He has to deal with you; you’re not a text he can delete. He can see that you’re a human being with feelings, rather than a string of text that popped up unwanted on his phone.
#2. Don’t pretend you agree.
It’s natural that you want to avoid difficult conversations. Why rock the boat?
But women are especially prone to saying what they think a man wants to hear in the early days of a relationship. They’re afraid that disagreeing with him will lead him to the conclusion that they’re incompatible.
I’m proud to report that men aren’t so fragile. They won’t shatter at the sound of no. They’re more resilient than you might think. A good man doesn’t mind being challenged if he believes it’s helping him become a better man.
It can even ring alarm bells if a woman agrees too much. A man doesn’t know if she’s being honest or not. Most men want a woman with her own heart and mind; they don’t want a clone who agrees with them on everything.
So test out the waters. Can you disagree but still be curious about his point of view?
#3. Build a conversation habit.
It takes time to have a good conversation. The best conversations happen when you’re not in a rush, you’re not distracted, and you genuinely want to know what’s going on for each other.
That’s why so many couples swear by a weekly date night. They can’t have those kinds of conversation at home when there are so many other distractions.
But you can do it in other ways. Go for an evening walk. Snuggle up for a movie and talk about it afterwards. (One study found that talking about romantic movies helped couples as much as a few sessions of couples counseling.)
Block out time to talk, and put your phones away. Really see one another. Hold hands. Connect.
The words you speak allow you to share your worlds with each other. Your conversations grow the story of your relationship. Keep writing that story.