Miami Couples Counseling News: Relationships – whether with wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends or even just friends – involve some of life’s greatest challenges. While there are several factors that contribute to the success of a marriage or long-term partnership, communication skills – or lack thereof – can either help or hinder one’s prospects.
Below are several researched and practical tips that help foster healthy communication. Recommendations for everyday situations, as well as specific strategies for handling arguments are discussed.
Much of this information is based on the work of one of the leading marital therapists and researchers, John Gottman, PhD., who has studied hundreds of couples over the course of twenty years.
General Communication Tips
1.) Active Listening / Use Feedback:
Sometimes when we listen to our significant other (or anybody for that matter), we’re not fully present. We may be distracted by something else that’s going on in our life, or feel overly reactive to strong emotions they’re displaying. In casual conversation (and especially during heated ones), it’s common for people to find themselves in a dynamic of impatiently waiting to chime in with a thought (defensive statement, rebuttal, etc.) while the other is speaking, rather than simply taking it all in and then responding afterwards. Accordingly, we end up not paying full attention to what the other is saying.
“Active Listening,” on the other hand, involves making a concerted effort to slow down and listen with an open heart and mind. This, of course, is easier said than done! But, intention is key, so you need to start there. If for whatever reason you don’t have the bandwidth to listen deeply and openly, then you may want to table the conversation, argument, etc. to another time (again, easier said than done).
You can take active listening a step further by sharing feedback. The classic way to do this is to restate what you heard the other person say, to demonstrate your understanding. We all know how great it feels to be heard. Being seen and heard is therapeutic and can’t drastically shift the dynamic in a positive way. You don’t necessarily have to agree with what is being said, but you do want to show that you’re getting the other’s perspective to the best of your ability. It’s fine to be completely transparent with this. For example, you can say, “It sounds like you are upset with me for forgetting to take care of _______, or for using that tone…am I understanding you correctly?”
Active listening, like so many aspects of communication, is a skill and therefore requires practice. As we do it more, we get better at it and it gets easier.
2.) Edit Criticism:
When communicating with your partner, make a concerted effort to avoid personal criticism. This includes refraining from put-downs, insults and negative body language, such as eye-rolling. As we all know, criticism makes people feel defensive, among other things; this significantly inhibits the listening process and can lead to further escalation of anger and hurt feelings.
3.) Be Gentle:
When something is bothering you, bring it up gently and without blame. Be aware of the tone used when communicating problems. A mutually respectful tone – one that is neither passive nor aggressive – goes a long way in starting a productive dialogue.
4.) Seek First to Understand vs. Being Understood:
This is one of my favorite approaches and really should be used as a mantra in all discussions, whether with spouses, other family members or friends. When in conflict, our default as human beings is often to focus on our desire to be understood. How many times have you heard, “you just don’t understand what I’m saying!” Of course, healthy relationships do involve understanding one another, but rather than emphasizing your own desire to be heard, try changing your focus to putting attention on understanding the other. This can really shift the relational dynamic and pave the way for more open and fresh communication.
5.) Ask Open-Ended Questions:
Hmm, have you noticed that those rhetorical questions, such as “do you ever stop talking and listen?” or “I wonder if you’ll ever take out the trash without me asking?” don’t seem to initiate healthy dialogue? Sure, they may feel good to say in the moment, as you release some pent up frustration or anger. But, in the long run, it doesn’t contribute to resolutions.
Instead, ask open-ended questions when you have concerns. For example, you may say to your spouse, “I could use more help with taking out the trash; do you have any ideas for how we can accomplish this?”
6.) Stay Calm:
Try to keep discussions as calm as possible. If things start to escalate, take a break and re-visit when the two of you feel less emotionally charged. Be mindful of your self-talk; are you saying things to yourself that keep you relatively calm or are you fueling the flames of emotional distress?
7.) Use “I” statements:
Try to own your feelings, by using “I” statements when communicating (e.g., I feel, I need, I want). Remember the “XYZ” technique: “I feel X when you do Y in situation Z.” For example: “I feel frustrated when you don’t take out the trash on Tuesdays, the day you agreed to do so.”
Find ways to soothe yourself when upset. For example, take a “time out,” by going for a walk or taking some time to yourself to do some breathing exercises. This relates to # 5 – keeping one’s emotions in check. Conversations will be much more productive when emotions are more balanced. view communication post.