The most common complaint couples have when they come to therapy is by far the same.
We can’t communicate!
The truth is, communication is not easy. Repeatedly engaging in unhelpful and ineffective communication patterns hurts relationships. Partners feel unheard, misunderstood, and frustrated. The problem is, most couples don’t know how to do it differently. There is good news! Communication skills can be easily learned.
So how can you communicate more effectively in your relationship?
Here are five strategies you can start using today to improve communication.
Of course, I’m listening, you might think to yourself. But are you truly listening? Active listening requires you to focus on what the speaker is saying. In couple’s relationships listening to one another is often taken for granted. We listen to respond rather than listen to understand.
Although you think you are listening to your partner in a heated discussion, what you are likely doing is preparing your response. Take the time to listen to what is being said. Ask questions to get more information so you can fully understand your partner’s experience.
Stick to one topic
It’s not uncommon for conversations about hot button topics to get derailed. What may start as a discussion about one thing quickly turns into a battle ground of all your past grievances about your partner. The focus of your original conversation is lost when partners drudge up a laundry list of past hurts. Then nothing gets solved. Stick to the topic at hand. Discuss one subject at a time so you are clear about your purpose and you are able to resolve the problem.
Manage your reaction
How do you respond to your partner when you hear something you don’t agree with or is difficult to hear? Do you become defensive, yell, whine or blame? When you lose your cool and let emotions get out of control, your point is lost. The focus is now on your negative reaction. I’m not saying this is easy, especially when the emotional brain is activated. But the more you manage your emotional reactions, the better chance you have of reaching your desired outcome.
Respect one another
While you may be tempted to hit below the belt in a heated argument, it will only inflict anguish on your relationship. These hurts can have lasting effects long after the argument passes. If you haven’t already, make an agreement with your partner to refrain from name calling or character assassination regardless of the disagreement. Respect for your partner and also self-respect will go a long way to preserve good will in your relationship.
Sometimes people confuse being assertive with being pushy or aggressive. But, really, assertiveness is about expressing yourself in a respectful and direct way. Whereas being aggressive is harsh and hurtful. Being assertive in your relationship allows you to express your thoughts, feelings, wants, and desires openly and honestly to your partner. It is the best way to negotiate differences in your relationship so everyone wins.
Communication creates the connection all couples crave. It is the key to a successful relationship. Effective communication skills don’t come naturally. It takes practice.
I encourage you to pick one area you know you could improve. Make these changes for a week and notice the improvement you see in your relationship with your partner and with yourself.