10 Strategies for Better Communication
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I've done a lot of work, training and research on how and why relationships struggle. I've also had more than enough personal experiences within my own marriage to watch how easily lack of or misinformed communication styles can lead us astray from a satisfying relationship.
Often, when working with couples, both partners will complain that they have 'communication issues'. Well, this can certainly mean an array of things, but generally it means that they are stuck in a rut or a cycle that is doing them way more harm than good. I focus on helping to identify what that cycle is, intervening, and helping to redirect it into a more healthy, effective communication style. Yes, this can be very challenging and a bit like giving up smoking, gaming, or reality TV, but unless you change what you are doing, nothing is going to get better.
10 Strategies for More Effective Communication
- Whenever you have something to share (something good, bad, stressful about your day, a concern about your relationship, an appreciation for the other person, a fear, etc), don't let it sit. Pick a time when you both can sit down and talk without distractions as soon as possible.
- Talk in short segments (in other words, don't have one person talk for 5 minutes straight). It can be hard to follow and listen attentively the more info that comes at you.
- Without an opinion, summarize for one another what you have heard. "So, it sounds like work is really stressful right now" or "I hear that you are really scared about our marriage", etc.
- Use "I" statements and avoid accusations/"you" statements. "I feel really depressed bc..."
- Stay in the present. Talk about whatever it is at hand- don't bring other issues into the current conversation.
- Don't criticize- it's perfectly OK to express how you're feeling in response to your partner, but keep it about what you are experiencing.
- Put yourself in each other's shoes when listening- Sometimes, you may both be hurting so much/so angry that it's hard to hear one another.
- Try not to withdrawal, roll your eyes, criticize or get defensive. Again, hear where the other person is coming from, and respond with your feelings.
- Depending on the intensity of the conversation, either of you can attempt what's called a 'repair' : make a joke, touch the other person, make gentle, supportive statements, etc. to help lighten the conversation and move forward.
- Take a break if/when needed! If you try talking and it starts feeling like one of you is shutting down or getting really worked up, take a break. Agree to revisit the conversation at a set time in the near future (30 min, an hour, after work, etc).