One of the most common problems reported by couples is poor communication skills.
Couples often report that they have the same fight over and over again. This is due to habituated patterns of speaking and listening. Improving communication skills includes attending to and changing both listening and speaking skills.
Many times instead of listening, we are waiting for our partner to stop talking long enough so that we can resume advancing our point of view. This is particularly true when we are trying to resolve conflict. Couples will improve their communication through mindful listening which postpones the speakers attempts to advance their agenda. At least for the moment.
It is also important to try and understand where your partner is coming from. This means you try and understand how or why your partner’s perspective might be different than your own. Perhaps they have a completely different perspective because of past relationships or the influence of their family of origin.
It is also important that the listener validates your partner’s perspective. This does not mean you agree with it. Perhaps their perspective is totally wrong. But when we deny that our partner feels the way they feel, it makes them feel not heard and not understood.
Finally we should try to reflect back to our partner what we heard them say. Reflection can include summarizing what we heard, and how the event/problem makes them feel.
To summarize the role of the listener includes:
- Postpone your agenda and the need to talk over your partner
- Seek to understand your partners’ perspective. Even if you do not agree with it.
- Reflect back to your partner what you heard them say.
When we are upset and seeking to resolve conflict we often engage in communication patterns that are highly problematic. In fact there are specific speaking patterns that are predictors of divorce. As a speaker refrain from criticizing, blaming and speaking with contempt. Ridiculing, scorn and a lack of respect are examples of contempt.
It is also important to use “I statements” instead of “you statements”. Examples of I statements are “I feel ______ when you do ______”. The framing of I statements will greatly reduce the likelihood of your partner getting defensive. The use of I statements also helps your partner to understand how you feel.
Finally, if you initiate a conversation with your partner it is very helpful to use a gentle startup and ease into the conversation. Saying, “hey, I have something I would like to talk to you about that happened when we were out with our friends” is a much better start up than “You embarrassed me and acted like a fool when we were out with our friends.”
To summarize the role of the speaker includes:
- Refrain from criticizing, contempt and blaming
- Use “I” statements. Don’t use “you” statements
- Use gentle startups
These speaker and listener skills are sure to improve communication with your partner. They are based on the Gottman method of marriage counseling, which is a highly reputable and evidence based type of marriage counseling. Gottman methods are available at Authentic-Life Counseling.
be in peace, diane