Simple Tools To Improve Communication In Your Relationship
At GroundWork Counseling in Maitland, Orlando Couples Counselors often work with couples seeking to improve their communication patterns. If you have been in a romantic relationship, you might have noticed how often misunderstandings occur between couples. You say something, and your partner “hears” it in a completely different way. Your words and your non-verbal cues are received very differently than you intended. Before you know it, they are hurt, upset or angry. You are left scratching your head in bewilderment saying “What went wrong?”
One of the reasons for this misunderstanding is the reality that each of you is a unique human being. We tend to think that our way of viewing the world is the “normal” way, and of course our partner sees things the same way. We expect that they will react to things we do, because that is the “normal” way of thinking and feeling. However, this is rarely true. Though the two of you have shared history and shared experiences, each of you is still very different from each other. You were raised in different environments, you have had different formative experiences, you have different personalities, hopes and fears. Just because you grew up with a houseful of dogs does not mean that your partner automatically likes pets too. Just because you love spicy food doesn’t mean they do. Just because you like to hash things out doesn’t mean they do. Conversely, just because they love spy thrillers doesn’t mean you do. Each of you is unique.
Recognizing these fundamental differences between the two of you is very important in a respectful couple relationship. When I know what you like and dislike, when I respect your personality traits and quirks, then I can say things more effectively to you. I can tailor what I say and how I say it. This is very much like a marketing campaign. Who is your target audience? What do they like and not like? How do you package your content so that it is attractive to them?
For example, if you were raised in a home with lots of fighting and discord, and you shy away from disagreements and loud voices, I have valuable information. I know how to approach disagreements with you. You need me to give you advance warning that I want to discuss something, to keep my voice soft when we are discussing it, and to respect when you have had “enough.” Even though I want to talk this through right now and get it all worked out, I have to be aware of your level of comfort and feeling safe with me. If I barge ahead despite your cues or requests for me to stop, I am showing you that I cannot be trusted because I am not paying attention to who YOU are.
Think back to the last argument with your partner. Could this information have changed the outcome?
As you develop this mindset for future use, take stock of the following:
- What issues are difficult for my partner to talk about?
- In the past when we have talked about these issues, what did I do or say to help the conversation go well? E.g. When is a good time to discuss this? How can I help this go well?
- What cues does my partner give me to tell me this is heating up too much for them?
- What strengths do I bring to this conversation that can help us work this out?
- How can I help regulate the conversation so that neither one of us flames out?
In the points above, you will notice the strong thread of personal responsibility. You are taking stock of reality. What does your partner like and dislike? You are taking responsibility for your role in the conversation, to help it proceed smoothly. Ultimately, you are the only person you can change. While you might wish that your partner handled things differently or reacted better, that is up to them. Therefore by looking at the situation with clear eyes, you can tailor what to say or not say to your partner for the best possible outcome.
With this awareness of personal differences, each of you can improve the quality of your communication. By being respectful of each other’s preferences and limitations, you can maximize your point being heard. When the environment is mutually respectful, you can trust each other, and be more successful in working things out.
Couples and marriage therapists encourage couples to work on developing good communication skills.
Below is a simple tool that can assist couples in staying on course together:
In the course of our busy lives, our relationships slip into “autodrive.” We fall into routines and develop familiar ways of dealing with each other. Most likely, you can predict how a conversation will proceed. “I will say A. They will say B. I will feel C and say D. They will react with E, and we’ll end up in a fight. It plays out the same way every time, we can’t get anywhere in solving this.”
Sometimes a little tweaking of the dance can help us connect better with each other. Interrupt the usual choreography and introduce a few new steps. it is possible to end up with a whole different experience, something new, and you have a more productive discussion more responsive to each other, and each of you is talking “to” each other rather than “at” each other.
One change you can make is to give each other feedback during the conversation and make a course-correction immediately. If your partner says something that hurts you, you can tell them so immediately and non-defensively. Use a word like “Ouch,” or something playful like “Boo boo,” or something nonsensical like “Banana peel.” This lets your partner know that what they said hurt or upset you.
This is their cue to take immediate corrective action. Their response is to say “Sorry” or “Oops” immediately. It may be they do not know why it was hurtful to you. They can ask why it felt like an injury because it was not meant as one. They can explain their intent, so you can see that it was not meant to hurt you. Either way, the hurt is flagged, an apology is made and issue is dealt with immediately.
A sample conversation might go like this:
A: That was some show you put on at dinner last night.
A: I’m sorry! What I meant was that our friends commented that had topped yourself with the planning, they thought it worked out so well.
B: Oh, that’s what you meant. I thought you meant I was being obsessive with the details.
A: Not at all, you did a great job!
As you see from this example, the hurts do not pile on, so you do not feel resentful or angry for feel that you have to retaliate. Each of you remains in sync with each other, and you can move on.
This technique requires personal accountability. For example, if I say Sorry, ask you why you were hurt by what I said and you tell me, I am now responsible for not making the same mistake again. I cannot continue to say the same things in future conversations and still act confused that it hurt you. I read the handbook. I cannot plead ignorance in the future. If I am committed to communicating well in the relationship, I have the responsibility to remember and act accordingly.
If either of you finds that the other is not paying attention to learning from past mistakes, it demonstrates that the relationship is not as high on the list of priorities as it could be. Ask yourself what is going on in your lives that remaining close and connected with each other has been put on the back burner. Sometimes there are very valid reasons why our energies are directed elsewhere – family emergencies, health issues, extraordinary work stressors. Be patient and allow life to return to normal. Then dedicate some time to reconnecting. Use this technique. If you find that the problem persists, perhaps it is time to seek additional help.
An Orlando based couple or marriage counselor at GroundWork Counseling can work with you to help you reconnect with each other. By both of you committing to turning towards each other and listening to each other, in a few short weeks your relationship can return to bringing you more satisfaction and enjoyment.
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