Improving communication in your relationship
Disagreements aren’t necessarily bad. Couples that never argue are often in pretty boring relationships. Whatever the area of conflict, though, resolving the inevitable disagreements in relationships requires effective communicating.
Communication is a skill, and skills can be learned. If you are good at verbal interaction with your partner, you may have learned it from watching your family of origin handle disagreements in healthy ways. If your family didn’t handle this sort of thing effectively when you were young, you may find that communication is a frustrating or difficult experience for you.
Did you ever watch someone try to communicate with a non-English speaker by over-enunciating each word they speak, or by talking VERY LOUDLY? We sometimes do the same thing with one another. Some people deal with that frustration by turning up the volume and becoming aggressive with their partner. Others of us may withdraw from conflict out of anxiety or fear. A relationship with two high-volume guys is likely to be energetic but overheated at times. Two conflict avoiders may have a placid relationship, but each partner may feel rather disconnected from the other.
You can learn to communicate, even if it feels a bit like going against your nature. Here are some guidelines:
- Make certain that each of you is present for the conversation. Trying to talk while you are in different rooms or while distractions are present (watching the television, absorbed in reading the newspaper) is not likely to work.
- Don’t assume you know what the other person is going to say, or that you know what he means. We often misunderstand even people we think we know quite well. Ask questions to help make meanings clear.
- Make sure the questions you ask are real questions. “Do you mean…?” is a good question. “Why do you always…” may sound like a question, but it’s really making a statement.
- Take responsibility for your feelings. If you have been in therapy, you probably learned to use language like “I feel uncared for when you don’t call me” rather than “You never make time for me.” Therapists call this making “I” statements.
- It helps to be considerate of your partner’s feelings. Being accusatory will often create a defensive response. Defensiveness keeps communication from flowing. If you need to bring up something difficult, consider making a soft start: “Is this a good time to talk? I’ve got a problem” rather than “We need to talk!”
- Listen as much as you speak. If you aren’t clear about something, ask your partner to clarify. Another good tip: restate what you are hearing and repeat it back to your partner. That helps you to be certain you heard correctly and it shows your partner that you are paying attention.
- In disagreements, getting the desired result is more important than proving that your point is the right one. See if there is a way for both of you to get what you want – for both of you to win.
- If at all possible, don’t let the conversation end without the issues raised being clearly resolved.
Communicating clearly can feel like a lot of work. If there is no resolution, it can feel like there is no payoff for all that investment. If there isn’t time to finish the conversation right now, plan on when and how you’ll pick it up again.
You don’t have to be perfect. Being even “pretty good” is enough to enrich your relationships. Practice these techniques and your relationship will benefit.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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