We typically choose partners that are, in some ways, different from us. This can keep our relationships interesting as we learn to navigate each other; it can also leave us confused, frustrated and downright angry when our communication styles differ. Communication is one of the most reported areas that clients want addressed in couples’ counseling.
So how can you communicate more effectively with your partner?
Be clear about what you want from the conversation. Before trying to communicate something to your partner, tell them what you’re looking for. “I need you to listen.” “I would like to reach a resolution.” “I need advice.” Often we are looking to be heard, and our partners’ instincts may lead them to try to dissolve the pain. While this is a noble cause, it leads to frustration and feeling misunderstood. If you’re the partner that searches for a cure, stay with your partner while he/she shares. Listen to the feeling and reflect it back. “That sounds so frustrating.” “I would have been hurt too.” These statements allow you to connect with your partner and deepens the understanding that you have for their situation. Stating what you’re looking for reduces the likelihood that you’ll feel misunderstood and can lead to feeling more emotionally connected to your partner.
Start with a feeling. Accusation and finger pointing is a dead end road that will provoke defensiveness. Feeling language can be impactful as your partner can often empathize with what you’re feeling. Anger is an initial reaction but isn’t the cause for distress. Asking yourself what lies beneath the surface will reveal a way to connect with your partner. Likely you’re feeling lonely, unimportant, undervalued, etc. This revelation, and sharing it, can invite your partner into your emotional world and give them the opportunity to respond in a meaningful way.
Listen to the plea behind a complaint. It’s often difficult to feel criticized, but when we slow down, actively reduce our defensiveness, and get curious, we may hear something other than what our partner actually said. For example, if at bedtime a husband says to his wife, “You’re really answering emails now?”, it would be easy for her to become defensive and a fight may ensue. If she listens to the plea behind the complaint, she can hear that her partner wants intimacy and uninterrupted time. Hearing this, she is better able to respond to his needs and avoid a meaningless argument. Responding softly is difficult, as our defenses often arise automatically with no thought at all, giving way to the power of anger. Slowing down and becoming intentional with your partner is a labor of love that is beneficial and increases the positive feelings that relationships require.
Effective communication takes time and a shift in the relationship. If one partner committed to improving communication, the relationship would change. If you’d like to learn more about your communication style and how to improve your relationship, contact me for a consultation. I can be reached at 512-655-3213.