|Posted on December 26, 2016 at 6:40 PM||comments (3)|
I am starting a series of Blogs regarding improving communication with your relationship with your partner and other relationships. I have been a family and couples counselor for over 25 years. Throughout the years, I have developed techniques that have been quite efficacious for improving relationships. I will begin with a few tips here and will continue to add to more throughout the next couple of weeks. I am also going to offer some fun facts regarding intimacy and affection. First of all, I will begin with the basics; the stuff that we may or may not already know but forget to implement when emotions are running high. I will review the information below that I usually share with my clients during their first session. I will base it toward couples although; these tips can be successful for any relationship. For simplicity, I have used examples that are husband and wife teams, this is not to exclude partners and same sex couples:
We all get in trouble when we assume that our partner is thinking, feeling or behaving a certain way and we misconstrue what is really going on with them. This can create animosity hence a beginning of an argument. An example would be, let's say a husband has prepared a dinner and the wife comes home a little late. He has had a rough day at work and is thinking about his day. The wife comes in and she sees that he is frustrated. The first thing that comes in mind for her is that he is angry at her coming in late. She begins by behaving defensively. Then the argument ensues. Another example would be if one partner was abused emotionally or otherwise from a former relationship. He or she may assume that their new partner is going to do the same by examining their behavior. This can also create misunderstandings although, we need to ensure that we are not being mistreated of course.
It is common to treat others with way we would like to be treated. This is usually interpreted as a good trait. But sometimes as with intimacy and the way we phrase our sentences, we may want to be talked to or treated differently than our partners. For example, one partner may like to be massaged while being intimate while the other partner never even thought of it. Another example could be the wording in certain phrases can be interpreted differently than what was intended. It is often necessary for us to communicate to each other our preferences, likes and needs.
This goes along with assumptions. Even after 30 years of marriage we do not really know what the other person is really thinking or feeling. We all come from different backgrounds and different places. Falling into this trap and lead to misunderstands and miscommunication.
One great way to avoid misinterpreting our partner is to use empathy. If you have noticed, when we ask someone "what's wrong?" they will inevitably say "nothing" and maybe in a frustrated tone. Or, if you asked, "how are you doing?” They may say something like "okay or good.” But this may not be accurate. Using empathy means labeling what you think they are feeling. This does not mean that it is necessary for us to agree with the other person in order to be empathetic. Examples of empathy could be saying something like, "It looks like you had a bad day," or "you seem sad” or “that must be frustrating." You do not need to be completely accurate because typically they will correct you and tell you what they’re actually feeling. By using empathy, you have a much better chance of getting into a real conversation. Empathy helps with allowing the other person to feel like they are being "heard." It is not phony unless you do not mean to understand what is going on with the other person. This takes practice.
"I" STATEMENTS VERSES "YOU" STATEMENTS
This is big! “You” statements typically create animosity and for your partner to feel like they are backed up into a corner. An example of a “You” statement would be (because I like food so much) let’s say the wife is at home making dinner this time; a special dinner that he did not know about. The husband has come home somewhat late and did not call to let her know that he was going to be late. He arrives and she says “YOU don’t care about me! YOU didn’t even bother to call! YOU don’t love me!” Then, he on the defense feels backed up into a corner, then he states something like “I didn’t know, YOU were late last week. I could not call because I was driving! What the heck?” You know where this is going. Now let’s visit, “I” statements; Let us use the same scenario. She is pretty upset because she planned a time sensitive meal. She is frustrated and upset. When he comes in the door, she says “I am feeling hurt and frustrated because you are late and did not call me to let me know.” The outcome would come out much differently. She could follow it up by, “next time could you pull of the road and give me a quick call?”
The formula is “I feel _____________________ because __________________________. Next time let’s ___________________.”
Note: As with empathy, this also takes much practice. I have messed up with this many times. It is difficult to keep up when the emotions are high. Please do not get frustrated if you don’t get it right away. There are many examples if you Google it.
“ALWAYS” AND “NEVER” STATEMENTS
These statements, especially when the emotions are high can be
damaging. For example, “you always are late” or “you never listen to me.” These statements are typically hurtful and does not get anywhere. In fact, it is very rare that a person was or is “always late”. (I will extrapolate later).
VALUES AND EXPECTATIONS
Also, since we all come from different backgrounds, our expectations and values are most often derived from our childhood and expanded throughout our adulthood. We are “stuck” with them in many ways but we can open a new mind and learn from one another into a whole new wonderful journey. We can meld with our partner while strengthening our relationships. One would be surprised about how close you could be with your partner. That is not a negative way of thinking. We can also help each other bloom in our pathway and learn from our differences.
HITTING BELOW THE BELT
This means not stabbing at the other person and identifying their faults. We all have different weaknesses and different strengths. It just fuels the fire when we point out the other person’s faults in conversation in order to get “at” the other person. When emotions are high we tend to use this as a defense mechanism, although unfortunately not a position and productive one.
Fortunately, most of us are mature enough to not resort to name calling but it is worth mentioning it here.
STICKING TO THE TOPIC
Avoid bringing in past resentments into an area of topic when discussing and issue. It can be brought up while discussing that topic but avoid going there and stay on topic.