By Michelle Ingrosso M.S.Ed.
Language is how we connect in our relationships and social lives. We use it to seduce, argue, and to propose and confirm a marriage. Language is what allows us to interact with others, allows us to convey ideas, influence the mental states, and behavior of others. Within our romantic relationships, we can all learn more about how to master the skills of effective communication. Effective communication is essential to help maintain balance, peace, and satisfaction within a relationship. Many studies have identified poor communication as one of the top reasons for couples therapy, as well as one of the top reasons for divorce.
Effective Methods to Improve Communication
The most important skill to master in communication is listening. In fact, to listen to builds trust, connection, and intimacy. Conflict is not only about conflicting opinions and interests. Mostly, it is about two people using two different ways of viewing and perceiving the world to attribute meaning to reality. Our ways are not the reality but our representation and idea of it, therefore, as we build our reality we make generalizations, remove details, and distort some other aspects. When our reality contradicts our partner’s reality, then conflict arises. Being able to listen allows us to appreciate and to connect with each other’s world. Listening permits us to enlarge our own map and to incorporate elements of the other’s reality. Conflict resolution, therefore, becomes the capacity to integrate our maps and to bring them closer to reality. This happens when we listen and ask questions that help us to understand the model of the world used by the other to navigate his or her reality. Listening interrupts the pattern of judgment and opens the space for understanding.
When we tell our partner what to do, or when, we have forgotten this deceptively simple idea of fairness. Who says our way is the right way? Instead of commanding, organizing or instructing your partner, the goal should be to shift your focus on collaborating. Ask your partner’s opinion, include them into your thoughts and ideas so that you can be co-creators in your goals and life.
Within any relationship, feeling anger, resentment, hurt, or sadness is a natural occurrence. It can happen as a result of differing opinions, frustrations in living together, or even as a result of our own stress. However, no matter the emotion you feel, respect should always be at the center of the relationship. Your partner deserves to hear about your feelings in a way that is appropriate and feels respectful. According to John Gottman, an expert on marriage and divorce, couples who resolve fights peacefully and quickly are those who learn how to fight and argue using respect.1
Good communication is never to be assumed; it is a skill that requires practice.
Inconsequential and conversations are easy to have, and most of the time are the interactions that result from experiencing difficult emotions. There is no magic pill to learn how to have effective conversations. You must learn how to express what you think constructively and without aggression or lack of respect, learn how to listen carefully, and use tools to verify that you are both talking about the same thing. This takes time and practice, but can lead to highly satisfying relationships.
Exercising compassion means validating yours and others feelings. Once you have understood what you are actually feeling, try to invite acceptance from yourself towards that feeling. You can do that within yourself by recognizing your own anger or accepting your own anxiety. Being mindful and accepting of your emotions can be a powerful skill. This challenging idea can be made easier by being mindful of the fact that when someone expresses anger towards you, they are safeguarding their own vulnerability. Learn to become curious about what vulnerability may be behind what your partner is saying, and, as with your own, be attentive of your partner’s actual suffering.
- Risk being vulnerable
In the midst of an argument, it’s often hard to admit to having done something wrong or being the first to say “I’m sorry.” This is because there is a fear associated with it and defensiveness becomes a mechanism to defeat the fear. With practiced mindfulness, you’ll become increasingly skilled at identifying your underlying vulnerabilities. The more you’re willing to be vulnerable first, the more likely it is for an argument to de-escalate.
Counseling to Improve Communication
Communication is an opportunity to grow closer to your partner. Once you master the tools of communication, you can discuss even the most sensitive of topics and still feel close and connected. This connection will strengthen your commitment and trust. Counseling is a powerful tool that can help you master the skills listed in this article, along with many other skills that can improve the overall quality of your relationship. If you are experiencing conflict within your romantic relationship or are looking for more support on just improving communication, please contact us with any questions on how we can help you.