People communicate all day every day, in many different ways. So... you'd think we'd be better at it! Couples struggle with communication in all different stages of relationships. Check out these tips for healthier conversations, then take them home to shoot the breeze, babble, gab, chat, catch up, yammer or negotiate!
1. Speak From Your Own Experience
What did your sentences look like the last time you fought with your partner? Let me take a guess… “You never take the trash out!” “You’re always nagging me.” “You said you’d come with me to this party, and then you didn’t!” It’s’ pretty common for us to jump straight to pointing out the flaws in our partners’ behaviors, because those are the things we’d like them to change. But take a minute to check yourself about what it feels like when someone speaks to you that way. When others start their sentences with “you” and then follow with an accusation, we’re put into defense-mode pretty quickly. When we feel defensive, our focus is on ourselves, and not our partner. We lose the perspective to address the issue. Next time, try speaking from your own experience, and starting your sentences with “I.” “I would like you to help me take the trash out more often when I’ve been working all day,” is a LOT more approachable!
2. Make Time to Take Time
Our emotions get the best of us. It happens. Sometimes we’re more likely to communicate effectively when we’ve had time to diffuse and consider what our message really is. If a problem arises in your relationship, it’s perfectly fine to acknowledge the issue and then take some space before you address it fully. Keep in mind that your partner may need to take space as well; just because you feel ready to talk doesn’t mean they are ready yet. As much as you would want to be given the space you need, offer that to your partner.
3. Stick to the Original Message
Human communication is often like two machines working together. Machine A outputs a message, Machine B puts the message through a number of filters and processes it. Then, Machine B sends its response, and Machine A filters it and processes it. The tricky thing with this equation are those pesky filters: our values, experiences and emotions. It can be really easy to think you’re responding to your partner’s message, when you might be responding to your own emotions or thoughts. Make it clear with yourself and with each other what the original message is, and re-direct yourselves back to it when you feel off track.
4. Make a “relationship goal” about the problem
Often, when I work with couples, I challenge them to think about their relationship as a third entity, separate from their individual selves. What does the relationship need at this time? If Johnny wants Sue to cut back on her time spent at work, and Sue doesn’t like how often Johnny plays in his band, what The Relationship wants is more quality time. With that in mind, Sue and Johnny are on the same team, rather than battling it out against each other.
The most simple and the most difficult task. It’s easy for us to get caught up in saying what we want to say and saying it the right way. When conversations aren’t going well, we often default to thinking about what we can do or say differently to change it. Take a deep breath, be courageous enough to live in the uncertainty, and listen to what your partner is truly saying to you.
These tools are a good starting point for learning how to communicate with your partner, but it's hard work to change patterns that have existed for a long time. Give us a call or request services if you need a little more information, and some guidance on how to use these tools.
Now get to gabbin'!