It’s funny how themes seem to pop up in my office from time to time. For example, there are times when it seems every individual and every couple that I am working with is having issues with intimacy. Or perhaps all at once it seems people are going through relationship breakdowns and we are focusing on how to heal. This month it seems to be all about communication. When you first signed up for this newsletter you received a document that gave you 10 tips on how to communicate in a healthy way and break the destructive patterns we can sometimes get stuck in. Because this month’s theme seems to be communication I am going to resend it in 2 segments (it’s really long!), but I would encourage you to take the tips from each segment and try to implement them each at least once before the end of the month.
I find it easy to sometimes read things with the best of intentions and then we forget to actually use them. Give these a shot and tell me what you think and how they go. Some may be easier than others which can teach us where we might need to focus our efforts going forward. Keep trying until they seem to fit, I assure you it will increase the connection in your relationship and strengthen your bond.
1. Listen, Listen, Listen
The less you listen, the less you communicate effectively. Often when we are in conflict we can become so focused on getting our opinions heard that we forget to really listen to what our partners are saying. If you have a tendency to interrupt or talk over your partner, try to take a step back and let your partner go first in expressing what is going on for him/her her. After your partner has finished, paraphrase what your partner has said to make sure you have it right.
By taking the time to really listen to what your partner has to say you send the message that what he/she is thinking or feeling is important to you and that it matters. This will make your partner more open and willing to be influenced by what you have to say.
2. Be Aware of Your Non-Verbal Communication
When we communicate with our partners, the messages we send are conveyed through our facial expressions and body language, not simply from the words we speak. In fact, we can often pick up how our partner is feeling and what point they are trying to make simply from their non-verbal behavior.
Many of us have experienced the infamous eye roll or partners who say they are not mad but their tone is curt and they refuse to be close to their partners. These negative non-verbal messages can cause a lot of harm as our conscious and unconscious minds makes sense of them. What is more, harmful non-verbal communication can make it difficult to move forward in the discussion in a healthy, non-defensive manner. At it’s worst, it leads to a total breakdown in communication and can be the demise of many relationships.
Often, we aren’t even aware of the non-verbal messages we send because they can happen so quickly and have usually been a part of our behaviors for a long time.
If you find that negative non-verbal communication is hurting your relationship, start by talking to your partner about it. You will likely get a better result if you do it at a time when you or your partner aren’t stressed or in the middle of a conflict in your relationship. Ask your partner if you send any non-verbal cues during conflict that bother him/her. By asking about your own challenges and downfalls first, your partner won’t be as likely to get defensive. This will increase the likelihood that your partner will participate in the conversation more fully. After getting feedback on your own non-verbal communication patterns, ask your partner if you can share your experience of his/her negative patterns.
Once you have both discussed your negative non-verbals with each other, ask your partner to bring it to your attention in a sensitive manner when you engage in these behavior sduring conflict in the future. Finally, ask permission to bring it to your partner’s awareness when your partner is doing the same thing during conflict. The key thing to note here is that you are to bring it up in a sensitive manner so that neither of you get more defensive during the conflict. Look at the differences in the two examples below:
Example 1: John stop rolling your eyes at me, you know you aren’t supposed to do that. How am I ever supposed to feel like you understand me when you keep doing those stupid behaviors.
Example 2: John I know we are struggling to see eye-eye right now but you gave me permission to mention it to you when you are rolling your eyes at me. I really want us to work through this and I find it difficult to feel like we are on the same team when you are rolling your eyes at me.
Example 2 shows a sensitive more productive approach to raising her partner’s awareness of his non-verbal behavior.
3. Make a Date to Have Important Discussions
Having difficult conversations is never easy, but assuming that the time that works best for you to talk about these things also works for your partner tends to only make things worse. When you have something important that you want to discuss with your partner, it is normal to want to discuss it immediately so that you don’t have to sit with the discomfort a minute longer than you have to. The problem is that sometimes in those moments our partners have other things on the go and won’t be as able to attend to the issue you’re presenting.
Tell your partner that you have something important you want to discuss and then ask to set a time to talk in the next 24 hours (if possible) that will work for both of you.. This allows for both of you to be in the right mindset and to not be preoccupied with other distractions.
4. Start with the Positives
Starting a difficult conversation by talking about what is going well helps put you both at ease and reminds you that there are many things for which you are each grateful for in your relationship. It allows you and your partner to feel good about yourselves, which will decrease anxiety and make help you both feel less defensive. Plus, it allows you to ground the conversation on a positive note, which will allow you to carry the positive feelings into the more difficult topics.
5. Allow for Time Outs
Dealing with conflict can be really difficult. Just like in a sports game, sometimes we need to call a time out to regroup and refocus. Tension can rise and emotions can be strong, making it difficult to always stay on the path we started on. It is healthy, in these moments, to call a “Time-Out”.
When you feel a time out is needed, let your partner know that you need a few minutes (not much more than 15) to take a breather. It is important during the time out that you do something during that break to calm down. Go for a quick walk around the block, practice some deep breathing exercises, read a relaxing or fun magazine; anything that doesn’t cause you to sit and stew in your emotions. A time-out is designed to give both people some breathing room, but is not intended to end the conversation all together. Before you leave for your time out, set a time in which you will be back to continue the conversation.