Archive for August 13th, 2011
We’ve had a tough day. On the way home from work, stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to change, another car hits us from the rear – not hard, there’s no damage, but we’re shaken up and feel like it’s just “one more thing” compounding an already-difficult day.
We describe the incident to our partner, who responds, “You really should take the other route; people drive too fast on that road.” Or maybe he or she says, “Remember, I told you, if you’d just leave work 15 minutes earlier, you’d avoid traffic.” That makes us furious.
Because instead of empathy, our partner gave us advice. We’re feeling vulnerable. What we really want is a hug, some words of consolation. We tell the story in the hopes of getting a “verbal hug” if not an actual one. Instead, our partner’s response feels cold, controlling, harsh and judgmental.
This situation can arise in conversation with our partner, family, friends, co-workers or even strangers. We are in need of support, help, sympathy or understanding, but instead are offered “sage” advice and end up feeling angry at the other person and angry at ourselves for being vulnerable.
Our anger is likely to make the situation worse, to push our partner away instead of getting us the response we really want. Our partner may become angry as well. When we’re angry, communication shuts down. We become defensive. We may say things that are hurtful or that we don’t really mean.
So what’s the solution?
Better communication skills. We can learn relationship skills that help us empathize and help us ask for what we need. As we express ourselves in this new way, anger no longer seems like a useful or necessary response. These are skills that can benefit every relationship, whether we’ve just met or we’ve been together for years, whether we’re on the verge of divorce or deeply committed and loving.
Successful communication within a relationship goes beyond just saying what’s on our mind. Implied within those very words – communication, relationship – is the notion of something that is shared between two individuals. The more we practice the skills of communication, the better we get, and the better our relationships get. Here are a few suggestions for effective communication between partners.
Set a time to talk. If you have something important to discuss with your partner, make an appointment to talk about it, even if the time you set is just a half-hour from now. Surprising your partner or approaching him/her at an inconvenient or inappropriate time will only make it more difficult to get heard. Be sensitive to your partner’s moods, level of tiredness, distractions or previous requests (for example, requests not to launch serious discussions before breakfast, or during dinner, or on the phone).
Have your conversation face to face. Phone or e-mail are not effective communication tools for couples dealing with important concerns. Yes, there are crises that have to be handled from a distance; but your best bet is time spent face to face, when you can both focus completely on the matter at hand.
Use “I” statements. Instead of blaming or accusing your partner of something, talk about what YOU are feeling.
State your intent or need. Don’t make partner guess, read your mind or interpret body language. State your need simply and then talk about how you can get what you – and your partner- need.
Avoid going over past/recent territory. Reviewing the “you said, I said” of recent conflicts is rarely helpful. Agree that your recent conflict highlights the need for better communication and use it as a starting point for discussion but not a subject for review.
Don’t blame or rationalize. Blaming your spouse for your own behavior, or justifying your behavior because of something your spouse did, sets up a no-win cause-and-effect argument. You each bear some responsibility for what happens from now on. Agree to accept responsibility together and move forward in your discussion.
Avoid threats. Threatening to walk out, to reveal secrets or to act in some way that is upsetting to your spouse is not effective communication. You may get a reaction, but you’ll seldom achieve any lasting change.
Talk about actions, not personalities. Your partner is unlikely to change personality, but he or she can probably adjust actions, so focus your conversation on things that can truly be changed.
Offering advice is not communicating. Confronted with an emotional spouse, we may react by offering advice. But that is seldom what is needed. (The exception, of course, is when your partner specifically asks for your advice.) Instead of being judgmental or trying to “fix” the problem for your spouse, listen with empathy; imagine, and then say, how you would feel in your partner’s position.
Remind, don’t nag. Partners don’t always have an equal investment in a particular change; often something is more important to one partner than to the other. Instead of looking for signals that your partner has forgotten, or has failed again to meet your needs, remind your spouse that this is something that’s still important to you – and be generous with your praise when he/she remembers.
Don’t measure or compare your behavior to your spouse’s or someone else’s relationship to your own. We often feel that we are doing “all” of something or that our partner “never” does something or that other couples “always” behave in some desired way. These measurements are rarely true and rarely productive. Stick with the “I” statements and your own needs.
Don’t expect instant or complete change. It took time to develop the bad habits of your relationship; it will take time to un-do them as well. Be patient.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )