Good communication is key to a healthy relationship. Here are a list of steps to communication better and to relate more effectively with your families.
1. Consider Your Partner
When tempers flare, pause and remind yourself “This is someone I care about….” If that doesn’t work, try to remind yourself of something you enjoy about this person. Sometimes we treat those closest to us worse than our friends, acquaintances or even strangers. Make it your goal to use your best communication skills with those you love the most!
2. Communicate Using I Statements
Do you ever wonder why your partner becomes defensive? Maybe it’s the way you present your case. The word “you” frequently leads the listener to feel defensive or tune you out if they expect criticism. Instead, try saying “I feel ____about ____ because_____”. Make sure to follow up with a preferred action. For example, instead of saying “You never listen to me when I’m talking,” try saying “I feel alone when I talk to you and you check your cell phone because I think what I say isn’t important to you. I would really appreciate if you would focus on me while I’m talking.”
3. Communicate Better by Focusing on the Present
Communicating about what’s happening in the present allows for easier, faster resolution. Conflict often escalates when we stop talking about the here and now and start talking about what happened in the past. Try taking words like “always”, and “never,” out of your vocabulary. Frequent use of “always” and “never” is a sure sign that you and your partner are sweeping problems under the rug rather than dealing with them immediately. Resolving issues as they arise will help keep your relationship free from resentment and tension.
4. Be Aware of Your (mis)Interpretations
People often hear through mental filters or their own beliefs about how others perceive them. These filters can lead to misinterpretations and mistaken assumptions which frequently lead to conflict and hurt feelings. For example, Mark comes home from work and remarks to his wife with a sigh “the kids left their bikes on the lawn again”. Sarah HEARS through her filter “It’s your fault – you don’t take care of your responsibilities with the kids” and responds defensively with “Well, I can’t do everything around here! You never help with anything!” Caught off guard, Mike retreats to his computer and there is little conversation for the rest of the evening.
Alternatively, if Sarah had thought “It’s possible Mark is as frustrated about the kids as I am – in fact, he didn’t actually say anything about it being my fault.” By allowing herself to step back and think rationally, Sarah might respond with “I guess we are going to have to talk to them about it again…” The evening may have had a different outcome. Remember: sometimes a question like “Did you have a chance to ….” Or “Why/what/how…did this happen” is just a question. If you are concerned there is an underlying meaning, ask for clarification before jumping to conclusions or responding defensively.
4. Focus on the Positive
Are you focused on your partner’s faults or on their positives? When conflict is high, we tend to focus exclusively on our partner’s faults, our unmet needs, and our frustrations. Instead, take a moment to focus on the positive…what are they doing well? When do you feel connected/happy, etc. Look for the exceptions to the rule. Try to actively catch your partner being the person you want him or her to be and then recognize them for it. Remember, people aren’t motivated by criticism but are more willing to change to meet positive expectations.
5. Ask: Do I Want to be Right or Do I Want to be Happy?
Let go of the need to win every disagreement. Agree to disagree. Allow others to have differences of opinion and perspective. Allow for the possibility that a particular situation can be perceived from a variety of perspectives and that all are equally valuable.
6. Take Responsibility for Your Part
Don’t be afraid to admit where you are wrong. Both people contribute to the conflict and both need to own their parts. Ask yourself what you could do differentlyin the future. What do you need from your partner? Are there particular issues that trigger strong emotions for you? Are there particular communication patterns that need to be adjusted? Sometimes something as simple as letting your partner know you need a few minutes to unwind after work before addressing problems can make a world of difference in your communication.
For more information on healthy communication, click here.