Tag Archives: communication

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:

Effective Communication

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Compromise.

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.



Featured in the Chicago edition of Attorney at Law Magazine:

When I argue with my spouse, she complains I am treating her like a witness I am cross-examining. She gets defensive and the tension escalates. Nothing ever fully resolves and we both shut down. I feel like we now avoid arguments rather than solve them. What can we do?

Having communication issues is one of the main problems couples face. In order to minimize getting trapped in the cycle you described, there are two main points to keep in mind.

First, although I don’t have specifics about what you and your wife disagree about, from my experience getting to the point of shutting down and not resolving anything is over perpetual issues. These types of issues include how money should be saved or spent, degrees of cleanliness and organization, how to discipline children, etc. They account for about 70% of the conflict that couples have. Perhaps surprisingly, they aren’t solvable because they are rooted in fundamental differences between people based on factors such as backgrounds, personality, experiences, and life goals and dreams. The good news is that you don’t have to expect to fully resolve most disagreements with your wife.

Instead, these kinds of problems need to reach a compromise. Managing the inevitable differences between you and your wife in this way will be key to your marital happiness.

Some couples believe they have to see eye-to-eye with their spouse, but this is unrealistic. We each have subjective realities and as I tell most of my clients, you’re probably both right. You want the focus to be on deepening your understanding of your wife’s reality instead of supporting your own case (and hopefully she will do likewise).

Since you’ve gotten to the point of not dealing with an issue to avoid an argument, I recommend that you try to listen without aiming to solve anything. Make a conscious effort to find out why your wife’s stance is important to her. No judging or criticizing, but truly getting an understanding of why that is her position – maybe a particular need, value, want or dream makes this especially significant to her. She also has to work on doing the same. The point is not necessarily to agree with each other’s view, but instead to understand it. Once this takes place, you are much more likely to reach a workable compromise. Respecting each other’s perspective and seeing its value can help you break out of your current cycle.

The second thing to consider when communicating is the timing of your talk. Getting to that point of shutting down is dangerous for a relationship and needs to be avoided. Once you hit that moment, rational thought is next to impossible. As your disagreement escalates, you stop hearing what the other person is saying. Your mind refuses to let you listen because instead it focuses on potential warning signs and escaping the situation. You’re also unable to understand your wife’s perspective or empathize. Bottom line is that it leads to the inability to access the necessary tools to effectively communicate.

It’s important to stop the argument before either of you shuts down, so call a time-out when you start feeling overwhelmed. Take at least 20 minutes, do something that calms you down, and resume the conversation once you’ve both cooled off.

Conflict should not be about who’s right and who’s wrong, who wins and who loses. It should center on respecting each other’s different points of view, to find an understanding on what you both need and compromising. In this way, your marriage can always win.