Take These 5 Steps to Better Communication
Hey, you know how to talk, right? You’ve been doing it since you were two years old. You talk all day long, so what’s wrong with your partner that you have to take on a miserable-sounding chore like “communication” to keep things happy? Well, of course you don’t have to change a thing, just keep talking as you always have – unless you want to fight less, understand more, be understood more, and maybe learn a thing or two about what your spouse is thinking but not saying.
Communication really isn’t that hard or unpleasant. Try out a few new steps and it may become as easy as just talking, with perks:
1. Listen. Does it seem ironic that the first thing you should do to improve communication is to take a break from talking? Listening to what the other is saying can be the most powerful tool in your communication toolbox. Listening doesn’t mean waiting for your turn to talk. It means attending to what’s being said, taking it in, thinking about what you’ve heard, listening with your heart as much as with your ears. When your partner has finished speaking, try repeating back what you think you heard; it lets your partner know you were paying attention and it gives you both an opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings.
Action: Be engaged when your partner is opening up.
2. Talk about the big stuff. There may be some big issues that you can’t imagine discussing; you’re both just going to get mad and you don’t want to get into a big, heavy argument right now. Or ever. But, just because you don’t discuss those issues that feel overwhelming, it doesn’t mean they’ll go away on their own. They surface in a lot of little, pointless arguments that don’t get the big issues taken care of. It’s OK if you don’t agree on some big issues if you can discuss how you both feel. Talking about your differences opens the door to understanding each other’s feelings. You may find your way to a common ground.
Action: Don’t avoid the tough stuff.
3. Honor the conversation. You’re in the middle of a conversation about something important when your phone rings. What do you do? If you answer, you’re telling your partner that almost any other conversation is more important than the one you are having. Even if you are talking about every day matters, ignoring your phone call until you’ve reached a stopping point sends a message that there’s no one you’d rather talk to. So let your phone ring, let email wait, save that Facebook update. Tweet later. Put aside your technological umbilical cord for a few minutes.
Action: Give your full attention.
4. Be kind. You love this person. Even when you’re massively annoyed, you love this person. No matter how justified your anger, you love this person. If you can keep that fact in mind, it should be much easier to put aside sharp comments. It’s a good rule to say at least five loving, appreciative things for every critical comment. If you can keep your side of the conversation positive, your partner is likely to respond in kind.
Action: Avoid criticism and attacking language.
5. Say what you want, not what you hate. It’s so much easier to respond to a clear, nonjudgmental and specific request than to a condemning complaint. “I’d appreciate it if you would take your muddy boots off on the porch” goes down much better than “How can you not see the filth you’re tracking into the house? I guess we both know who’s going to have to clean it up.”
Action: Give your partner a way to make it right.
Depending on the day, a couple’s communication can range from a bumpy road to smooth sailing. Working on these five steps will keep you on course, smoothly sailing towards a more peaceful life together.