Most couples come to marriage/couple counseling stating that they have difficulty communicating. One spouse may say "my partner never listens to me". The other may say "you are always complaining". One may communicate too much, while the other, too little. It's frustrating and sometimes even depressing when you feel the person you want to connect with most is not listening. This challenge is not communication in a relationship as much as it is about understanding one another. Couples communicate anger and hostility very well. The challenge is openness and connection while needing to discuss difficult issues . Here are some proven ways to help the make conversations more productive; so that you can get back to the business of loving one another.
Timing- Many times partners run into problems when the attempt to have conversations at the wrong time. Fights erupt when heart-to-heart discussions are attempted when someone is tired, hungry, angry (hungry + angry = hangry), sad, or busy. If the topic is a serious one, wait until the other needs are met. Your chances are better for a positive outcome if you do.
Speak The Way They Hear- Many people are surprised to hear that women use about 25,000 words a day and men only about 10,000 (this is a generalization of course). Use this knowledge to your benefit. If you notice that your listener is zoning out when you talk, use a bullet point approach. If you realize your listener keeps asking questions, expand your point to include stories or metaphors.
Be A Model- This may be one of the hardest suggestions. If you really want your listener to hear you, you may want to be a great listener yourself. This would mean taking turns and trying to see the other person's point of view. This is called modeling; as you are showing your listener what you need. The challenge with this suggestion is that most people will only do this some of the time. If you can practice this skill and make it a part of all interactions it could make your partner more receptive to what you have to say.
Find A Positive- Go into the interaction with a positive thought that you would like to express to your partner. What can you appreciate about them? Sincerity is key because your partner will detect a phony statement a mile away. If you are genuine about having a positive attitude, it will show. If you are not, it will breed distrust in your relationship.
Stick To The Point- Bringing up delicate issues and/or asking for behavior change is delicate. The normal human response is for your partner to want to defend themselves. Expect that. They may bring up other issues in defense too. Acknowledge those issues immediately, then come back to the original point. Tackling one issue at a time is key in working through conflict in romantic relationships. Promise to revisit their issues later and keep your promise. Scheduling a time in the next 24 hours is a good idea. This will teach your spouse that you are willing to tackle difficult issues they will bring up in the future.
Discussions (and even conflict) are not bad in a relationship. Those who have successful marriages view conflict as a way to find deeper meaning and connect with one another. No couple does this perfectly, but small improvements over time can lead to big changes. Hey, look on the bright side, maybe a conflict every once in a while could motivate you to find great ways to make up.
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