The number one complaint I hear from couples coming for counseling is this: “We are having problems communicating.” We need to remember that we all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and families and that these differences shape our communication styles and the way we take in information from others. Unless we’re conscious of this fact, our ability to understand and be understood by our partner could be compromised. Here is a technique for you and your partner to practice to improve your communication.
1. Listen actively and patiently. Listening is a lost art. Often, when we’re in a conversation, we’re planning ahead to our next comment rather than truly hearing the other person. If you find your mind jumping ahead to craft a response, hold that thought. Truly allow yourself to focus on what your partner is trying to convey.
2. Ask clarifying questions. Sometimes we can make assumptions about what our partner means, filtered through the lens of our own feelings, thoughts and emotions. We all know what trouble we can get into by assuming. If you’re not 100% clear on what your partner is saying, ask. You’ll not only learn something new about your partner’s way of thinking, but you’ll also show that you’re interested, present, and listening.
3. Confirm your understanding of what your partner has relayed. Once you think that you have a handle on your partner’s message, repeat it back to them in your words to double check that you have it right. You’d be surprised at how often there’s something that needs to be clarified to get your partner’s meaning crystal clear.
4. Decrease your defensiveness. This is the toughest part. When our partner is expressing something that we don’t agree with, it can raise up our defenses, and fast. Recognize this tendency and work to put down that shield. Then, go back to active listening, asking clarifying questions, and confirming your understanding of your partner’s point of view. Validating your partner’s reality does not mean that you are agreeing with them, but it can go a long way to bridging the communication gap.
While this technique is essential for building strong communication skills with an intimate partner, it is also highly effective in relationships with family members, friends and co-workers. Give it a try this week and see the positive effect it has on your relationships.
When we commit to being with another person, be it my marriage, having children, or another type of ceremony, we expect to be together forever. Unfortunately, half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. If you are going through this painful life transition, there are steps that you can take to make the process a little easier.
Prioritize self-care. Divorce and separation are difficult losses and create great amounts of stress on your body and mind. Schedule daily exercise, eat well, and get plenty of sleep to keep yourself healthy.
Be patient with your friends. With divorce and separation, friendships are altered. Some friends feel that they need to “pick a side” of the couple. Try to tap into your patience and empathy…your breakup is likely tough on your friends as well.
Protect your kids. If you and your partner have children together, do your best to decrease their exposure to your conflict. Watch your language when speaking of your ex so that your kids don’t hear hurtful and damaging messages about the other parent.
Seek support. Connect with others who can relate to what you’re going through. Make sure to find positive, uplifting people who can shore you up through this transition. Support groups and individual counseling or therapy can be other places to find help.
Divorce and separation are often rife with difficult emotions. This list of suggestions, while not comprehensive, is a place to start.