Many of the couples who come in for counseling want to improve their communication. They feel stuck in their relationship and don’t know how to move forward so I often hear that their problem is “communication.” As a Marriage and Family Therapist I like to offer a few tips and thoughts for you to reflect on.
In essence, communication is talking and listening. Sounds simple, right? What makes communication challenging is that both people need to feel heard, affirmed, understood and valued. After falling in love and choosing to spend your lives together, the question for you as a couple is, do you have the skills to do the above? Do you know your style of loving your spouse? There is a deep connection that takes place when your partner feels understood, heard, respected and valued – it’s a form of intimacy. So what are these skills? You may ask what ones does when you need to talk about your relationship or something that is going. It is highly critical that you and your spouse know how to focus on each other, for example you want to make sure you are rested and peaceful, that you don’t have any interruptions when you have something important to talk about. Be wise and smart about the timing of your discussions; and for when it’s time to share your feelings and thoughts with him. If you have kids – don’t do it with the kids present. For example, you may want to get up early in the morning before the kids are up, and have some time alone to talk, and listen without distractions and interruptions. Or you may want to meet together for lunch or dinner – for only the two of you!
Moreover, make sure you are not under stress, don’t talk when you are feeling angry, tired or stressed from work or any other negative feelings, so you may want to wait and choose the time that you can think clearly and be able to focus, so that you and your spouse can feel heard and understood. Pay attention to the pace of your discussion. Notice is your conversation loud? Make sure you have eye contact. Don’t speak with your back toward your spouse while you are doing something else and she or he is engaged in another activity in the same room. Turn off any of the technological gadgets such as your cell phone, computer, tv etc. Sit together, facing each other and practice the following suggestions. Productive communication is when you and your spouse can make time that is quiet, uninterrupted, unhurried, stress-free time. When you hear you spouse’s statement, before you reply, make sure you repeat back to him what you heard him say, and check with him and see if you heard everything he said, and vice versa. Listen carefully if there was anything that you possibly missed, in your own cognitive process – ask him/her to repeat it again. When you’ve received all the information, then you can reply.
Moreover, in order to know how to talk to your spouse, it’s essential that you know what to say – by this, I mean what words to use. Get in touch with those deep feelings, your thoughts and your needs and your own yearnings. These are parts of you that you must express if you are going to be understood, valued or heard.
The ability to talk well and say the right words will depend on the following:
- How you feel about yourself has a lot to do with how you bring yourself into the relationship and the words you choose to express yourself. It’s really important to value yourself and know that what you have to say is worth sharing with others. This has to do with what you believe about yourself. There are some individuals that don’t believe what they say is worthwhile. Your sense of self as a person is crucial in the relationship, so that is why I say please take responsibly for that, get healthier and don’t be afraid of spending sometime in your own therapy to figure things out for yourself. This step is important so that you are familiar with your own style of loving someone and relating to them. In counseling you can also learn how to connect dots from your previous relationships that have led you to this place. Don’t be afraid of looking inside and be introspective. A lot of people don’t really know what is going on inside of themselves. We live in such a fast pace society, being busy with loud noises of technology such as TV, radio, fast speed internet and information world; newspaper, work, cell phone constantly ringing that one does not know what is going on inside of himself or herself. There is a rich, exciting, colorful and wonderful world inside of you, so take the time to access it.
- Criticism and judgment: perhaps you are tired or being criticized or being judged. I hear about this issue from many people who come in to see me in counseling. Many times being criticized didn’t begin with the spouse rather it happened with some important figure long before you met your spouse, but because this experience is very hurtful to you; somehow you’ve learned to remain quiet most of the times. So your silence can affect your relationship. It’s not that there is not so much to say, rather the style of restrictive communication and the fear of becoming vulnerable is learned and you continue to bring it in the relationship, and as a result you distance yourself from your spouse. It protects you from the possibility of being judged or criticized.
- In summary, please be open to learning new skills for your relationship; focus and pay attention and find out what is your style of talking and loving your spouse, examine your own internal process and get to know yourself better by seeking therapy with a good therapist, and then you will know how to say what is really important to you and to connect with your spouse/partner.