In today’s blog I want to talk about healthy communication and give you 10 rules that will make a positive difference to the way in which you experience challenging discussions.
Because I work with lots of couples, and because they are usually in a lot of pain by the time they get to me, they have often reached a point in their communication where they are short-cutting the process and going straight from “We need to talk” to yelling profanities at each other. They have forgotten – or given up on – how to have a genuine conversation about the things that matter to them and as a result they feel like they are not having any success.
There seems to be a forgone conclusion that there is no point in trying to have a reasonable discussion because in the past one or both of the partners has felt unheard, disrespected, judged, unimportant, unloved and even resented or hated. Often that has been the consensus for some time so a pattern of unsuccessful communication has been well and truly entrenched.
Today I want to remind – and in some cases educate – couples that it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way to build or re-build a healthy relationship simply by insisting on raising the standard of communication between you. Once the basic communication between a couple is healthy their issues are often dealt with quite quickly.
Following are some rules and guidelines that I share with many of my couples. If these are not being followed then the couple is often stuck in a loop full of drama and pain. Once the couple understands and chooses to honestly implement these rules wholeheartedly however, many of their issues are quickly resolved because they are really communicating.
- Know that you are hurting because there is a gap between your expectations and reality. Reality is under no obligation to meet your expectations and nor is your partner. If you want to reduce the gap between reality and your expectations you have to change one or the other, and often a little of both, but it is you who has to do something different. And if you are waiting for the world – or anyone or anything in it – to change in order for you to be happy, you are going to be waiting a very long time.
- Set your intentions before you start a difficult conversation. Have a carefully thought out list complete with grievance and possible solutions before you talk so that you can stay on track and resolve one thing at a time. If other unresolved issues arise during the conversation, write them down and schedule time to deal with them at another time so that you can resolve the issue you started with.
- Manage your own feelings and your own behaviour. As hard as it might be at times, nothing will be resolved by having a wobbly or by losing control and acting like a child who doesn’t know any better. You must speak and act in an adult manner and if you can’t do that, walk away. Use time out if you need to calm down. Reschedule the conversation until you can speak and act rationally.
- We have two ears and one mouth so learn to spend twice as much time listening and half as much time talking. if either of you feel you are struggling to finish a conversation without being talked over, use a talking stick and only talk when it is in your hands.
- Aim first to understand, then to be understood. Acceptance or your partner’s position does not mean agreement. Just because you don’t understand something or don’t think it is valid does not mean it isn’t important for your partner. Try asking why something is important to your partner before you give a self-righteous speech about why something shouldn’t matter. You might be surprised by what you learn and it could help to ease your pain.
- Be honest with yourself about who you are under pressure. What is your manipulating style when you are not getting what you want? How have you tried to manipulate your partner or shut down communication in the past? Try to observe your own responses and reactions while you are having them and ask yourself if you could be saying or doing something more helpful in future.
- Instead of expressing your hurt, anger and frustration, explain it. Use “I” statements. There are many advantages to doing this but two stand out. One is that you are owning your position and your feelings and no one can take that away from you, as opposed to waiting for someone else to own their part in your misery. The second advantage is that your partner is less likely to go into defensive mode and more likely to listen longer if you are constantly saying “I” instead of “you”.
- If you can’t say something nice(ly), don’t say anything at all. I grew up being told that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. WRONG. This leads to all sorts of problems and if you are living by this or teaching this to your children, please STOP NOW. This is how all kinds of abuse and lots of other not nice things have gone unspoken about and unaddressed for generations. Sometimes we have to say something that isn’t nice because it is the truth and it needs to be addressed but there is a way to do it that is helpful rather than hurtful. Speak respectfully. That means no name-calling, no swearing at your partner and no talking over the top of them. You don’t have to feel respect for someone in order to speak and act respectfully toward them and as long as you are speaking and acting respectfully you will have a better chance of being treated in the same manner.
- NO STANDING OVER YOUR PARTNER OR ENGAGING IN PHYSICAL INTIMIDATION OF ANY KIND. EVER. FULL STOP. This is never ok and you must take yourself away from a situation if you feel or think you might do this.
- Know that being and feeling valued is the most important thing in any relationship and when you value yourself and your partner you will experience the sort of loving relationship you are looking for. Don’t wait for your partner to value you. It starts with you. You set the standard and if you are being honest with yourself about this, you will realise that valuing yourself is good for everyone around you too.
If you are struggling with communication with your partner, know that you only have to change your course by 1 degree in order to end up at an entirely different destination. Any change in the right direction will have a positive impact on your relationship so do what you can to start with and keep improving. The better you become at these things the better your relationship will be.
Until next time…
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