As a marriage and family counselor, the predominant population of my clientele consists of couples. Some couples come to me for minor issues they simply do not want to get out of hand; others come because they are literally on the brink of divorce and therapy is their last ditch effort. Whatever the case for attending therapy, an all too common issue behind the presenting concern is bad communication.
When we are unable to communicate well within our relationships, we often miss the fact that we are actually on the same page; we miss when the other may have a particularly good point; we miss the chance to see that we can indeed be wrong and still grow closer to one another in relationship; we miss the opportunity to work together to solve our problems; and we miss the chance to let the other know that their voice in our relationship is valued. In all our missing, we forfeit closeness because when communication breaks down, our peace within the relationship breaks down; our sense of feeling valued breaks down; and our understanding that we are sharing, rather than competing, in life breaks down.
Closeness is built in relationship when we are able to fully be ourselves, unashamed and unafraid. When a breakdown of communication occurs we begin to withhold elements of ourselves–be it out of defensiveness, anger, fear, or simply frustration. When communication is beautifully active we speak, knowing we are heard; listen, informing the other that they matter; and share, reminding the relationship of its invaluable worth.
If communication is something you find that you and your spouse struggle with, the following 10 tips will hopefully prove helpful, increasing the level of your relational closeness.
Consider the following ten statements and for each one consider whether the statement is true of you. If the statement is true, you have a strength to rely upon. If the statement is not true, you have identified a growth area in which to improve.
- Respect the other person’s right to privacy and boundaries.
- Make a focused effort to listen thoroughly without judgment and understand.
- Do not interrupt, rather allow the other person to finish speaking.
- Control your facial expressions and body language.
- Determine the best time and place to talk.
- Do not use words that are accusatory, threatening, demanding, critical or full of blame.
- Remember that it’s not necessary to draw everything out into a full-blown discussion. Address the main issue and leave the little ones alone for now.
- Do not listen defensively, i.e., Do not wait until the other person is quiet just so you can prove your point.
- Do not do all of the talking.
- Discern from the content of the conversation the emotional intent.
By Megan Clunan, MA, LMHC, LPC