Communication is the foundation of all close relationships and will either make or break most couples over the long term. This is no less the case at the beginning of a relationship. A second date hinges on the first; we use it assess whether we enjoy talking and spending time with this new person, at least enough to see them again. This relies heavily on communication.
Even if you’re highly compatible with someone on paper, actually uncovering that deeper connection depends on your ability to communicate it. The biggest myth about communication is that, if you’re talking, you’re automatically communicating, but there’s actually a bit more to it than that. Effective communication requires regular practice and a conscious effort to be a good speaker and a good listener. This also includes a better awareness of our own communication mistakes that may prevent a potential partner from feeling that spark.
Is your communication getting in the way of a second date? Here are five common communication pitfalls to avoid:
1. Planning Ahead
What it is: Thinking about what you’re going to say in response to what your date is saying while your date is still talking.
Why it’s bad: While we may want our response to be well crafted, if your brain is busy thinking of what you’re going to say next, it isn’t able to listen to what your date is saying right now. You may be hearing him, but you’re not able to listen to understand him and his point of view when you are preoccupied with your own.
How to fix it: Listen to what your date is saying as if you had to repeat it all back to him, word for word. This allows you to really hear and understand him by shutting up the background noise of your own opinions, judgments or rebuttals that may get in the way.
What it is: Jumping in with your response while your date is still talking
Why it’s bad: Even if you’re in complete agreement, interrupting does more harm than good. It tells your date that you think whatever you have to say is more important than what he is saying, or that you don’t respect his opinion enough to hear him out.
How to fix it: Bite your tongue. If you enthusiastically agree, show it with your body language by smiling, leaning in, and nodding. If you don’t feel the same way, wait until your date is done talking, and then respond in a way that shows him that you appreciate his opinion but happen to see it another way.
What it is: Talking, at length, and then talking some more, without give your date a chance to say anything.
Why it’s bad: No matter how interesting or funny your story might be, not pausing to hear what your date has to say communicates that you aren’t particularly interested in her thoughts. And even if your date is trying to listen to understand you, the brain can only absorb so much, and at some point she will eventually just tune you out.
How to fix it: First dates are for getting to know each other equally, and thus the time spent talking should be split relatively evenly, too. If you do get into a lengthy story, take breaks to let your date ask questions (if she’s interested) or change the subject (if she’s not), and don’t take it too personally if she does. Monopolizing the evening with a story she’s not into is a lose-lose; you’ll feel slighted by her obvious disinterest and she’ll feel reluctant to ask you a question ever again.
What it is: Making a declarative statement as if it is an unchallengeable fact when it is really based on subjective opinion or assumptions (“Of course this is how it is. What else could it be?”)
Why it’s bad: Asserting a strong opinion as “fact” without offering room for discussion or debate can seem abrasive, closed-minded, or downright offensive. And if your date doesn’t happen to agree with you, this can make him defensive and turn him off from wanting to discuss much of anything else with you.
How to fix it: Frame a strongly held belief or opinion as one of many possible positions on the issue, not the only right one, by shifting your language. Instead of asserting, “The east side of town is such a dump,” say, “I haven’t spent much time on the east side because it doesn’t seem like super safe neighborhood; have you found any hidden gems since you started working over there?”
5. Story Matching
What it is: Responding to all of your date’s stories with ones of your own. “I totally know what you mean. One time I…”
Why it’s bad: While it can be helpful once in awhile to help highlight some of your similarities, regularly “one-upping” her story-for-story can come off as more competitive than collaborative.
How to fix it: Your date isn’t sharing her story to serve as the opening act for yours, so save your similar tale for another time. Instead, following up with a question to clarify or get more info shows her that you were listening and are interested in her thoughts.
Sarah Schmermund specializes in marriage and family therapy, working with couples, individuals, and families via her private practice in Washington, D.C.