Communication within relationships is difficult.
We experience failure in this area every day, even with a plethora of resources that teach us healthy communication skills. I have to admit, as we’ve been crafting this article about communication, we have been having an even harder time with it than normal! Why does all the sensible knowledge we’ve imbibed seem to vaporize the very second a conflict emerges?
The answer is emotion.
We can know all the logical, healthy, stable ways to communicate and still allow emotions to guide our interactions. Emotions are like those people behind you at red lights who wait about .2 seconds to honk when the light goes green. Their actions are annoying and un-productive. In the same way, our emotions kick into instant overdrive when a situation becomes heated and they often hurt our efforts to communicate.
Is there any way to break free from overpowering emotions? Yes! The key is to know thyself. Getting in touch with your emotions and working on self-knowledge will vastly improve how both you and your partner communicate. In understanding our emotions, we validate them and use them to produce positive change rather than allowing them to damage connection and understanding. Here are seven ways you and your significant other can learn to communicate better:
1. Trying to Win
We all know that you shouldn’t try to win an argument. But it feels so good! When a spouse or loved one disagrees with you, it’s natural to want to force them to see your point of view. We want our feelings validated and our significant other to understand how major this issue is to us. Instead of trying to win a dispute, work on understanding why you feel so strongly first. This will take a mighty amount of effort, but if you can clearly grasp why the issue is so important and then communicate your feelings, you might find more instances where your loved one listens rather than arguing back their own point of view.
Does this sound familiar?
“Seriously? You’re really just going to sit there and watch TV even though you know I’m upset? You don’t even care.”
You’re coming into this conversation swinging. Couples need to learn to work with their emotions rather then letting them guide how they talk. I’ve found that giving myself a couple of minutes to be alone, privately seethe, talk to God a bit and breathe deeply goes a long way in helping me calmly walk downstairs and instead say, “I’m really upset about something, can I talk to you about it?” Emotions are important, but maturity means communicating those emotions in a way that does not attack the other person.
Honestly, we think active listening is crap. When two people are upset, they don’t have the presence of mind to put emotions aside, listen and then repeat back what each said. However, the purpose of active listening is important. It’s a tool to help thoroughly understand how both individuals feel. So, acknowledge that you’re going to be bad at listening when emotions are high and come back to the argument later. When you do, try to only focus on one person at that time. Come back to the argument a second time and focus on the other person. That way you both get attention and understanding. It’s not a perfect scenario, but it tends to work better than slogging through, “So you meant this when you said this …” over and over and over.
Timing is everything when it comes to communication. Bad times to communicate are: late at night, early morning, 10 minutes before work, in public, at your in-laws, in front of children and during sex. Good times to communicate are: when there is enough time to talk, you’re awake, well-rested, have eaten, are in your own home and feel somewhat able to not blow up the minute the conversation begins. Understanding that your emotions can be affected by sleep, food, privacy and time is important. Couples that actively work to find good times to deal with issues will probably find they are better able to handle their emotions as they work things out.
When you are defensive, you feel attacked. When you feel attacked, you work on preserving yourself from further hurt or injury. We are all naturally wired this way. If you find yourself defensive a lot, it might be time to visit a counselor and dig into possible vulnerability issues. If you find your spouse/loved one is often defensive, ask yourself if the way you talk to them inspires feelings of being attacked. Defensiveness is an emotion that does not need to be present in a loving, honest relationship, and all it takes is some self-awareness and concerted effort to combat this common stumbling block.
Besides the obvious fact that when one is distracted, he or she cannot pay attention to a conversation, distraction affects our emotions. When your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse is absorbed in TV, video games, the Internet, texting and so forth, it communicates they would rather give their attention to these things than you. This is hurtful and can feel like you’re competing for your loved one against an invisible and unbeatable force. Understanding your emotions can help when you communicate about this issue. Rather than focusing on the TV or Internet as the problem, instead emphasize how the lack of attention makes you feel. Change in this area often happens when people realize how their over-absorption is hurting those they love.
Gender differences are clearly seen in communication issues. Often a woman needs her emotions to be listened to, while a man is wired to offer practical solutions to a problem. We frequently set ourselves up for arguments by not pro-actively communicating our needs. This could sound like, “I had a bad day at work and I really need you to just listen to me vent about it, then give me a hug.” Or: “I need advice on working out this issue with a friend. What do you think I should do?” Instead of expecting the other person to have an emotional sixth sense about our changing needs (and we all do this), the mature thing to do is self-process how you feel first and then tell your partner exactly what you desire from him or her.
Our emotions are central to who we are. We can allow them to be wild, reacting, responding and retaliating without censor or control. Or they can be processed, understood, validated and then used to foster healthy and productive communication. It’s something that can deeply wound your relationship or make it better than ever.
Jake and Melissa Kircher write about marriage and relationships at: www.holymessofmarriage.com