Saturday, February 14, 2015

Over last few year I have met some pretty awesome people in couples’ counseling. Usually the issues that bring them to me have less to do with loss of love and more to do with a lack of healthy communication. I am convinced that the individual work it takes to help develop those skills is a lot less emotionally expensive than the reality of divorce. I am happy to say that most of couples that I have worked with, when both parties are truly committed, were able to quickly learn lessons that would help them develop and grow a healthier relationship. For this reason, I decided to share and I hope others can benefit from the top five communication tips I usually give out in my couples’ counseling sessions.
  1. Stop with the complaint that your partner does not understand your needs.  Instead of complaining, ask for what you want in concrete, clear and measurable terms. In counseling, my goal is to help people see that many times they are treating their partners like “mind readers.”  So, the work requires that both individuals need to ask their partner to do some things that would change their current dynamic. This will help each feel better about being heard and understood in the relationship. For example, if your husband asked you to stop throwing things during an argument, you need to hear him being honest about the escalating anger, making it difficult to have a real conversation with you; without violence. Remember each partner deserves to be listened to and have their feelings respected.
  2. Remember the rules of engagement for healthy communication; be kind, use “I” statements and it’s not about being right, but doing what is right for your marriage.  Start by softening your words and raise issues calmly. When couples start off with anger it’s almost impossible to return to relative calm. For example, if we think of your communication as a bell curve where we start calm, tempers may escalate, but are more likely to come back down to the initial tone; calm. This approach can help eliminate having contempt and feelings of personal attacks. 
  3. Always complete what you’re attempting to communicate. Truth be told, you have to get to a resolution that you both can handle, even through difficulty. If not, I can promise you this much; you will be having the same argument ten years after the first time the issue was not dealt with.  Like it or not, you must keep talking. That’s the only way to make progress. One of the assignments I give during counseling is picking a disagreement that has gotten you into therapy and having a full conversation. Yes, it sounds simple, but when hurt develops in a relationship, having direct conversations are a struggle.  For example, take a Friday night and sit down to a full conversation. *Don’t forget the rules of engagement from tip two.
  4. This is a continuation of tips two and three because the reality is that communication is a continuum; learn to exit the argument without losing or abusing one another. Successful partners know how to leave an argument. Learn to mend the situation before an argument gets completely out of hand and things are taken personal. Some possible suggestions in this area are: changing the topic to something completely off-subject; using laughter; helping partner with a caring statement.  For example, a statement like, "I understand that this is difficult for you” or “don’t worry, this is our problem and we are in this together.”  Never be afraid to offer real gratitude and signs of appreciation for each other. Finally, if an argument gets too intense, take a break, and agree to come back to the topic when all are calm; remember this does not mean leave the discussion unfinished.
  5. Lastly, celebrate the good about your relationship out loud! Many partners will spend more time complaining about one another, but never mention what makes them great. For every bad, there are probably a million good things being overlooked because someone’s feeling are hurt. Create high standards on how you show gratitude. Plainly speaking, focus on the bright side; this will help you build a healthy emotional storage. I once read that most happy couples have a 5 to 1 ratio of positive statements to not-so-positive.  So start being positive “out loud” now.


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