What Did You Say?
6 Skills for More Effective Communication
Communication is one of the top concerns that brings our couples to our therapy offices. The good news is that with a few skills, you can make a positive impact in this key area of your relationship. Here are 6 of them to help:
- Soften your start up.
How a conversation starts is inevitably how it’ll end. In fact, the first 3 minutes of a conversation are crucial. Be gentle and avoid criticizing or blaming. Strive to frame your complaints as requests if possible. For example, instead of, “You never touch me,” try “I loved it when you kissed me in the kitchen the other day. You’re a great kisser. Let’s do that more often.”
- Listen to understand.
You’re two different people and so it’s impossible to agree on everything. A goal of a conversation can be to understand your partner’s perspective without agreeing. To do this, ask open ended questions and be genuinely curious about why your partner believes and feels the way that they do. A common complaint of our clients is that they don’t feel heard. Truly honor and respect your partner’s reality, even when it differs from your own.
- Accept influence.
Accepting influence means sharing power and decision making. You take your partner’s feelings and viewpoints into consideration and this also means that you don’t just do what you want. You won’t just go out and buy a new car because you think, “I can do whatever I want. It’s MY money.” Instead you ask your partner their thoughts about such a purchase and you weigh their perspective into your decision. You do this in little and big ways, whether you’re discussing relocating, taking on a promotion, or not accepting an invitation until you’ve discussed it with your partner. Accepting influence conveys honor and respect for your partner.
- Become pros at de-escalation.
Sometimes a communication problem is really an emotional management problem. Learn to sooth yourself and each other, especially during a conflict discussion. You can practice deep breathing exercises, counting to 10 before responding (one of our clients says, “Can I have a pause?”), or taking a time out with a distraction. Experiment with what brings your heart rate down and makes you feel calm to prevent feeling overwhelmed.
- Make and accept repairs.
A repair attempt is any statement or action that prevents negativity from escalating out of control. Whether it’s silly or serious, the action lets your partner know that you want to deescalate the tension during a conflict discussion. They’re important because they decrease stress levels and help prevent feeling flooded. Some repairs include sticking out your tongue, asking for a kiss, saying “Can you rephrase that more gently?” or “Give me a moment.” Use them often and recognize when your partner is making a repair. They have to be accepted to work.
The above 5 steps set the stage for effective compromise. You can’t reach a compromise without understanding each other’s perspective. Try to see the reasonable part of your partner’s request and where you can be flexible. Compromise won’t always feel perfect, but it’s a necessary part for a win-win feeling in your relationship.
These behaviors might take a lot of effort and intention. Changing a pattern won’t happen overnight, and the goal is not to avoid conflict altogether. But making small changes daily will help you and your partner communicate more effectively.