HOW you and your partner communicate is usually crucial to the outcomes of your conversations. Having a baseline set of shared communication skills makes it a lot easier to focus on the actual content of discussions, rather than getting sidetracked by what seems to be going on underneath.
- “Posture” Awareness Tools. What kinds of “roles” are your verbal favorites? Do you like to advise? Criticize? Defend? Resist? Comply? Often, outside of conscious awareness, you and your partner may be contributing to useless loops. For example, unsolicited advice-giving may invite the other partner to resist, or to comply with resentment. Instead of whatever loops you might get stuck in, you can learn techniques for sharing neutrally, sharing from the heart, and listening with empathy.
- Assumption-Checking Tools. Because as human beings we look through the windows of our experience, our perception isn’t always clear. So, you and your partner need structures to check out whether what you have intuited about the other’s intentions, feelings, etc. is correct. Often, we will make an assumption and it becomes the foundation for starting a wall of resentment. For example, Terry takes a new job and comes home later than expected for three nights. Partner Jane feels progressively worse each night. She may assume her partner doesn’t care how she feels, is romantically interested in someone at work, etc. Terry and Jane need (non-accusatory) techniques for checking out assumptions and getting clear about the facts.
- Negotiation Tools. Using the example above, once the truth about the assumption(s) has been clarified, Jane and Terry may choose to negotiate some agreements about arrival times which take both of their needs into account. Having some “execs in the boardroom” type tools (i.e. “propose, counter-propose”) can be really helpful with negotiation.
- Fair Conflict Agreements. Of course, you are going to argue sometimes. However, if you take the time to develop your own rules about what is O.K. (and not O.K.) to do/say when you are angry, how/when to use time outs, etc. and stick with it, you are much less likely to end an argument in bilateral upset and blaming.
- Connection Tools. Odds are you wouldn’t leave your pet without food and water for a day! Your relationship is a living entity that needs to be nourished. According to John Gottman’s research, http://gottman.com, ongoing closeness, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t just happen. The good news is that you can develop rituals for connecting daily, including expanding discussion, feeling physically connected, etc.
If you would like to enhance your relationship by adding to your communication skills tool kits, check out the Couples Therapy link under “Services” on this website!
Frances M. Bledsoe, LCSW has been in practice for over 30 years, and has been certified as a Clinical Fellow by AAMFT for 22 years. She does individual and couples’ therapy; also workshops for clients and professionals.