by Meredith Keller & Debby Deroian
Most every couple has experienced that argument in which you escalate one another until you are caught in a negative cycle of defensiveness, anger and/or hurt feelings. When couples get caught up in these types of arguments, the original issue has little to no chance of being resolved. These interactions are characterized by a) very little listening, b) each partner focusing on what they want their partner to change, and c) blame, shame & criticism. This is ineffective communication at its finest. So how can we learn new ways to talk, and equally as important, listen to our partners to have effective communication instead?
Constructive speaking includes:
- Asking your partner if now is a good time to talk-Timing is key. Even though a topic is on your mind at the moment, now is not always a good time for your partner. This can be difficult because we might feel a burning desire to say it immediately. But if your partner has just walked in the door from work, or has had a tough day with the kids, it is important to remember they won’t be in the most receptive frame of mind. A simple question like “I would really like to talk to you about something, is now a good time?” can set you up for having a productive conversation. Just as important, of course, is being able to take no for an answer.
- Talk about yourself-As we talked about, during arguments, the fingers are generally pointed towards our partners in blame. Rather than talking about your partner, talk about yourself using statements such as “I think, I feel, I’d like…” These “I” statements will go a long way to ward off reactions like defensiveness and help your partner be able to actually hear what it is you’re saying.
- Verbalize how this conversation may be connected to your past-Sometimes our partner doesn’t understand where our strong feelings are coming from. If we can verbalize how a present issue is similar to, or even the opposite of, your past, it can assist your partner in understanding why a given topic is important to you.
Constructive listening includes:
- Responding to your partner’s request for a dialogue- If you are not in a good space for really listening (if you’re cold, tired, hungry, preoccupied, or your foot hurts (!)), you can say no to your partner’s request for dialogue. However, it is important that you do offer up a different time, such as “How about tomorrow morning before I leave for work?” You want to be sure that your partner does not feel dismissed and you can accomplish this even if “now” is not the right time. However, if you are in a good space at that moment, turn towards them by saying “Yes”.
- Listening to understand-Listening is a very hard skill. It’s one that most of us assume we do correctly but, in fact, are often doing incorrectly. For example, rather than listening to understand, we wait (or not) for the chance to respond. Our partner may be speaking, but all we are doing is thinking about what we want to say next. Instead, go in with the intention of taking turns speaking, so the listener can focus on just the listening knowing that they will get their turn. We have two ears and only one mouth – we can choose to listen more than speak.
- Validate-Validation means stating what you can understand about what your partner is saying if you were in their shoes. Many couples get very stuck on this because they have the false idea that understanding equals agreement. It is okay if you don’t agree with your partner; but you can still find one thing about what they are saying that makes sense to you and tell them what that is! Validation during listening will go such a long way in making your partner feel not only heard, but understood-something that we all long for in a relationship.
Talking and listening in this way has the power to deepen your knowledge and understanding of one another. It moves you closer to each other, and over time, being closer is what builds fondness and enables people to work together. When you practice and learn a new way to talk and listen, connection, friendship and intimacy deepen, ultimately improving the relationship for both of you. If you and your partner need help implementing some of these effective communication strategies, please feel free to call us at 908-246-3074, or email GetSupport@CouplesTherapyCenterOfNJ.com