We have taken a look at how negative communication traits affect a relationship in my last post; How communicating using the Four Horsemen is harmful to your relationship. Now let’s look at how we can approach communication more positively. It’s important to learn how to communicate effectively, and it’s not always an easy task.
Remember, it’s not selfish to communicate your needs, if you don’t communicate your needs how can the other person know what you want and what is working or not working for you?
I know that if you have spent years putting your needs last, this will take a big mindset shift, but be patient and kind with yourself and you will reap the rewards.
Softened start up
Typically, in heterosexual marriages it is the woman who will bring up a difficult subject wanting a solution, whereas men tend to ignore hard to face topics because they are more likely to experience flooding; feeling overwhelmed and experiencing a fight or flight response, because they are biologically more reactive to emotional stress than women says John Gottman.
In my Seven Principles workshops, the couples learn a softened start-up. Rather than jumping in when irritated, the person is encouraged to pick a time when they are calm and bring up the subject in a gentle, noncritical way, to not provoke the four horsemen; Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.
Communicate your needs and make sure they are understood
It’s vitally important for any relationship to flourish to be able to communicate your needs and have them received by your partner and understood. Sharing your needs is not selfish; creating a healthy relationship with clear boundaries and expectations is necessary.
Remember, you are only responsible for clearly communicating your needs; the receiver must ensure they understand clearly.
It is your responsibility in a relationship to look after your needs and ensure they are understood. And then understand your partner’s needs when they communicate them to you.
Remember, your partner isn’t a mind reader. If you don’t communicate your needs clearly, how can your partner know what you want and what is working or not working for you?
Pick a time when you and your partner can give each other your undivided attention and explain your needs using ‘I’ statements, not ‘you’ statements.
Use ‘I’ statements not ‘you’ statements
Remember my client Jenn used ‘I’ statements to avoid being critical of her husband Todd. Feeling he was not interested in her needs, she told him, “I am upset that you talked about your day at dinner and didn’t ask about mine.” She stopped there, clearly communicating her need, and refrained from adding, “you are so selfish,” which would have turned the conversation into a criticism.
Now Todd has to take up the baton and clearly understand Jenn’s complaint. He needs to validate her feeling and show her he understood. Todd could reply with something like, “I am so sorry, I am interested in your day, I was just so caught up in what happened to me today.”
Take a break if the conversation goes downhill
Getting this new way of communicating right can take practice. If one of you gets frustrated, angry or starts to stonewall, it’s time to take a break.
Studies have shown that taking a 20-minute break to do something soothing and then returning to the conversation can be very productive. This looks different for everyone; deep breathing, taking a walk, listening to music, consider what works for you.
Communicate that you need a break in a noncritical way. You might want to decide between yourselves what could be a signal that you need to take this time out.
Be patient if a solution isn’t instant
Women’s brains are wired differently from men. There are many more left to right brain connections in a female brain, making it easier to deal with more than one thought at a time quickly. Men’s brains are more logical, needing time to process one thought at a time.
I know this from my relationship with my husband. He will often listen and come back a day later with another thought; it can be frustrating because I want things solved immediately! Knowing this about him helps me have patience, and I admire how he will think through a problem so calmly and then come back to the issue so it can be solved, or a compromise found.
Remember that 69% of problems in a marriage are unsolvable, perpetual problems. Trying to solve these problems rather than finding a compromise can be a waste of time.
How to communicate without judgment
You communicate what is true for you, and the other person receives it through their lens. Our personal life experiences, upbringing, and beliefs cloud our lenses, and no two people see things the same way.
Because of these different ways we see life, we should communicate without making assumptions and clarify what the other person is saying to ensure we understand correctly.
A caution: How to communicate by text or email
Not 100% of the meaning behind what we are saying is verbal. Consider that some clues to your word’s meanings come from facial expression, body language, and tone of voice. We have all experienced receiving that text or email that sounds ‘off,’ questioning the meaning, stewing over it, and then finding out we had perceived it wrong.
So let’s be on the safe side and only have important conversations face to face, taking care to pick your time with care.
Be patient with each other
There is no doubt about it; changing how we communicate with each other takes time and patience. You are not always going to get it right, but working together to improve your communication brings you closer. Remember the four horsemen; Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling, and be conscious when you use them.
If you slip up, immediately make a repair attempt to your partner, “Oh that sounded critical, I have to be more careful” and in turn if you are on the receiving end accept that repair attempt, “It did a bit, but its ok we are both working on this to be better”.
I am excited for you to improve your communication in your relationship and reap the rewards of a closer bond and a more enjoyable time together.
Connect with me if you would like to explore positive communication more.