Saying that communication is the key to a healthy relationship is like saying that an engine is a relatively important part of your car. But knowing that and acting on it are two different experiences. If communicating well was such an easy thing for couples, then why do so many couples have trouble doing it?
The truth is that speaking from the heart is one of the most difficult things we do. This month, we thought we would share some healthy communication tips. We are starting with the role of the speaker, so stay tuned…the listener skills will be next!
1. Is now a good time? First, before you jump right into a discussion, we recommend that you check in with your partner to see if it’s a good time to talk. For example, if your partner just finished a 12 hour shift at work, it’s probably not the best time for a serious chat. Just because something is eating at you does not mean your partner is up for discussing it at that very minute. That doesn’t mean you should wait until your partner takes a day off from work to talk. Just let your partner settle in a bit and let them know you have something you want to talk about.
2. Focus on ONE issue or concern at a time. Often people start with one issue and then start adding in other issues including things from the past that are sometimes not even related to the main issue. Be careful and mindful of this…it’s a very slippery slope. When you start bringing up issues from the past, especially if they had been resolved, you’re not working toward solving the problem. You’re working toward trying to be right. You have to ask yourself whether it is more important for you to be right or to solve the problem. Most of the time, these are two different experiences.
3. If the issue or concern has to do with your partner, focus on their behavior that is problematic. Please do not attack them as a person. After all, if your partner was so bad, why are you together?
4. Concisely describe the event. Use the video camera check and avoid assumptions and your perceptions. A video camera only picks up behaviors and words…not assumptions. For example, say “When I saw your dirty socks on the floor this morning…”; instead of “You lazy SOB! You left your socks on the floor again? I know you are doing it on purpose just to piss me off!”
5. Use “I statements”. This allows you to own your feelings and decreases the chance of your partner becoming defensive. For example, say “I felt ______ when you said or did________.”; instead of “YOU made me so (angry, sad, etc)!” No one “makes” you angry. You make a choice if your partner does X, you’re going to be angry. And being angry never solves anything. Ditch the anger and get to the heart of the disagreement instead.
6. Make a request for change, not a demand. For example, say “You know I have an issue with people leaving dirty socks on the floor, so could you please work on remembering to put them in the laundry basket instead?”
Remember, by communicating your viewpoint the right way, you can actually convey how you feel in a way that can lead to solving the issue instead of escalating it to become a bigger one!