“We don’t know how to communicate.” “We don’t know how to fight fair. How do you do that?” “Most of our conversations become arguments and remain unresolved.”  “Why do conversations seem so difficult? They never used to be. What happened?”

Couples work is invigorating, challenging, and at times exhausting. Its the work I love to do. And although each couple is different – there are some universal feelings they have about their relationship when it becomes distressed and unhealthy.

The dance.

There is a ‘dance’ that exists – a back and forth between two people (spouses, partners, mother/child, co-workers) that is maintained and reinforced by both parties, whether they recognize it as that or not.  It’s often this dance that gets discussed and challenged in therapy with the goal being to change the dance by altering the way the two people communicate because it isn’t working. Ultimately what is discussed, explored, and practiced in therapy is implemented to their ‘real world’ with hopes of improving their relationship and how they relate to one another so they can have a healthier and more positive relationship.

Creating Change. 

In the beginning and especially in the heat of the moment, the ability to communicate effectively is that much more challenging. We know that a person’s ability to communicate effectively and use all the tools they have learned while in the heat of the moment is impossible. We are simply not hard wired that way.

Yet, something has to change or the relationship conflict will remain. A key factor is to start the dialogue by getting on the same page when they are not in turmoil and decide on a couple of changes together. This helps the couple recognize that they can work together in some fashion, even if the changes are ever so small in the beginnig. This reinforces their relationship and their connection.

"We are communicating better, still not out of the woods."

Strategies to Improve Communication

  1. Create your own marriage or relationship rules. People don’t always know how to start this process or have not even considered doing this task, but they really like this idea! They find it to be eye opening, beneficial, and helpful in creating a conversation about their relationship.
  2. Before you get into any discussion, determine the emotional mood you are in and then communicate that to the other person. Ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” If not, ask when might be a good time. Schedule a time and ensure that both people will honor the plan.
  3. Forgo technology one night a week. Research has proven that overuse of technology can negatively affect relationships.
  4. Request an apology if you think you deserve one. Be the one to extend the olive branch once in awhile.
  5. Mind reading does not work. As much as this is true, people keep trying. It’s your responsibility is to tell your partner what you want and need; it is not his or hers to figure it out.
  6. Take certain trigger words off table – including the D word (divorce) and “I am leaving/I am out of here”, especially in the heat of an argument.
  7. If your partner is making an honest attempt to repair the relationship, then try to make a physical connection.
  8. Learn how to negotiate – which is not the same as complaining. Negotiating means that you state clearly, without fighting or blaming, how the status quo needs to change so that things can embark on a new direction.
  9. Self regulate. This means to know how to manage your own emotions. You are responsible for yourself, not anyone else. Use your energy to take care of yourself and not to attempt to manage another person. This does not work and is also just as futile as mind reading.
  10. Learn how to not take things personally all the time. I see this often. It prevents a person from taking ownership where it is needed and discards ownership of an issue when it is not warranted. It’s not always about you.
  11. Have respect. If they ask you to do something, do it.  Be kind even when they are not.
  12. Be flexible in your thinking and problem solving, and be open to other alternatives and options. People have a tendency to be close-minded and overly opinionated. These traits get in the way of good communication and thwart progress.
  13. Watch your tone and inflection. Just a slight change of infliction in one or two words will change the course of the conversation. So does starting a statement with “I” versus “you” – which puts the other person quickly into defensive mode with a statement.
  14. Stay on topic by asking, “what is the real issue we are fighting about?” Many couples quickly throw ‘in the kitchen sink’ and all unresolved issues take front and center quickly becoming part of the argument.
  15. Employ the 5:1 ratio. For every negative comment, you should be stating 5 positive comments. (John Gottman)
  16. Add some humor! Humor has a way of diluting and diffusing tension and has immeasurable, positive results.

Keep in mind that it’s about creating the conversation and an open dialogue that will encourage compassion for one another with less confrontation and criticism.

These are just a handful of strategies to improve communication. What has worked for you in your relationship?

This blog was originally published on Womensemergence.com

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