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Communication.  8 steps to better communication

We all know that it’s important in healthy relationships.  We need to communicate.  We need to share with each other.  We need to be clear and assertive.

We all know that bad communication causes problems.  We feel disconnected and misunderstood.  We have needs that don’t get met.  We are defensive and fight with each other.

We know all this.  And yet we continue to struggle when we try to talk to each other.  Maybe we don’t really understand what it takes to communicate effectively with our intimates.  Maybe it’s time for some more specific instructions.

So, here are some specific tips to help you talk to that special person in a way that leaves you feeling closer instead of shredded. Pull them out the next time you need to bring up a touchy subject.

  1. Choose the right time.  Your relationship is important.  Treat it with respect by making time to have REAL conversations.  Instead of throwing out a quick barb in passing, ask your partner when it would be convenient for the two of you to talk.  And then, sit down together in a private, quiet space.  Give yourselves the time, space, and attention that your relationship deserves.
  2. Focus on feelings. This is a biggie.  It changes the focus of the conversation from actions (You never take out the trash!) to impact (I really get stressed out when I’m trying to fix dinner and there is no room in the garbage can).  We are all much more receptive to messages that ask for help rather than accusing or condemning.
  3. Don’t rush the solution.  When stating a problem to your partner, stick to the problem.  You have no idea what they might think about this issue.  And until you do, it’s too soon for a solution.
  4. Say your piece and then shut up. Don’t go on and on about it.  Don’t pull in extraneous information or go off on tangents.  Be careful while you are talking – say only what is important, necessary, true, and helpful to the situation.  No name calling.  No button pushing.  No digging up the past.
  5. Listen up.  Allow your partner respond to what you’ve said.  And don’t interrupt.  Don’t.  Interrupt.  Listen to what they have to say.Listening is a highly under appreciated skill.  When your partner is talking, you have one job:  to try to understand the message they are communicating.  This is not the time to formulate your counter-argument.  Just try to really tune in to them.  What emotions can you detect in their message?  What are they trying to tell you?  Ask questions about anything you don’t quite get.
  6. Check yourself. When your partner has finished speaking, check your understanding.  Reflect back to them what you think they were communicating and as them to clarify anything you get wrong. Your one goal is to completely understand their position so take your time and make sure you really get it before you move on.
  7. Solve it together.  Once you both feel confident that your partner really understands your position, you are ready to resolve the issue.  Now you have all the information.  So work together on a solution that you can both live with.
  8. Remember that you are on the same team.  This is a conversation, not a competition. There are no losers.

Sounds easy enough, right?  Yeah, but it isn’t.  It’s hard.  It’s hard to avoid the old traps of blaming, nagging, talking at each other rather than listening.  You probably won’t feel comfortable the first time you try this.  Or the second.  It will feel forced and a little awkward.  Stick with it.  It works.  I watch couples in my office transform their relationships simply by changing the way they communicate.  And you can too.