Penny Foreman - Individual and Couples Therapist

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Communication Tips for Couples
How to Improve Your Relationship:  Communication Tips for Couples

Communication can be clear or vague, open or guarded, honest or dishonest – it can even be spoken or unspoken – but there is no such thing as “non-communication”!  In fact, virtually everything we do in the company of others communicates something. Our body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and level of interest (or disinterest) all communicate something to the perceptive listener.

Because our ideas and interests are transmitted to others through the way we communicate, we’re more apt to get our needs met if we are effective communicators.  The problem is that often we think we’re communicating one thing, but are actually communicating something quite different.  Or we’re communicating so poorly that no one quite understands what it is we’re trying to say.  

Communication has two parts – listening and expressing oneself.  Each must occur for communication to be successful.


To become a more effective listener, try some of these techniques:


Listen…don’t talk!  Give the other person a chance to get his or her own ideas and opinions across.  Listen to understand, rather than spending the time preparing for your defense.  Put aside your own opinions, thoughts and conclusions until you’ve heard (and understood) what your partner is trying to say.  

Don’t interrupt.
  Let your partner finish what she or he is saying.  If this is a problem and you typically interrupt a lot, place your hand over your mouth or your chin in your hands to remind yourself to keep quiet.

Don’t jump to conclusions.  Keep an open mind and don’t judge.

Try to empathize.  Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes as you listen.   

Think before you say anything in response, especially if you are having a strong emotional response.

Don’t look for the right or wrong in what your partner is saying.  JUST LISTEN.

Remember feelings are neither right nor wrong.  Your partner is the expert on his or her feelings.


Feelings are not facts, but they are essential in understanding why your partner is responding to you in certain ways. You can spend a lot of time arguing about the facts and completely discount your partner’s feelings

Be aware of non-verbal signs and clues (both your own and your partner’s).  These include shrugging your shoulders, your tone of voice, crossing your arms, nodding, avoidance of eye contact, rolling your eyes, facial expressions (smiling, frowning, smirking), foot tapping, etc.

Tone of voice is key
– it can make the difference between being seen as supportive and loving or as critical and hurtful. Stop, consider and adjust your tone before you respond.

When responding, let your partner know that you heard what he or she said by using a feedback technique and restating what you heard.  Say something like “I think what you said was…” or “Do you mean that…”or “I understood you to say….”.

Be open to hearing that you may not have heard accurately what your partner said.

Listening and responding with concern and understanding of your partner’s feelings is often all she or he may need from you.

Don’t give advice unless asked for it, but be prepared to do some problem solving, if that is what your partner requests.


Being a communicator


Sometimes, especially if you are feeling irritated or angry, it may be best to write out your concerns in private and then share them with your partner at a time when you feel calmer.   

Pick the right time and place.  You don’t want to bring up problems when you don’t have time to talk about them.  Pick an occasion when you both have adequate time and choose a place without distractions.  Don’t bring up issues when either or both of you are tired or hungry – usually everyone loses!

Don’t be mean! 
State your feelings honestly without being sarcastic or insulting to the other person.   Think about the impact of your words before you speak.

Stick to the issue on the table.
  Don’t bring up things that happened long ago.  This is called “gunny sacking” – bringing out the bag of past grievances and dumping it on the table.
 
Don’t bring other people into the discussion, such as:  “Even your sister thinks that you are selfish!”

Don’t try to figure out who is at fault.  It is more important to talk about what you both need to do to solve the problem, rather than assign blame.

Avoid starting a sentence with “you”.  It sounds like an accusation or an invitation to fight (which it usually is!).  Stick to “I” statements.  Try the XYZ model for this type of communication:

    
 
  1. I feel X
  2. when you do Y
  3. in situation Z

    For example:  “I feel hurt when you criticize me when we are with our friends.” 

No name-calling, such as: “You are such a jerk!”.  Avoid verbally abusing people.  Refrain from insults, put-downs, and expressions of disgust.
 
Think of your partner as a Very Sensitive Person (even if it doesn’t always show on the outside!).  Speak to him or her with kindness and consideration and politeness, just as you would like to be spoken to.

Don’t mind-read. 
If you don’t know how your partner feels or thinks, then ASK.
 
Incorporate positive statements and compliments along with your complaints.  This will soften the blow of any complaints or concerns and make your partner less defensive.

Avoid controlling.  Whenever one person seeks to always be right, always be the agenda-setter and always be the good one, he or she may feel like a winner – but it is the relationship that loses.  You can be right or you can be happy!

Problem-solving:  If it can be achieved, the ideal solution is one where both parties emerge as “winners.”  Define both persons’ needs.  Try to fairly meet those needs, while supporting and respecting both parties’ values - a win/win solution can be achieved!

Remember you only have control over changing yourself, not others. You don’t have to wait for your partner to change.  You can go first!

There is power in solving problems.  Each time you and your partner work out a problem – cooperatively, respectfully, creatively – you strengthen the relationship and establish a model for the future!


Most importantly, remember that all couples have their share of problems.  You are not always going to see eye-to-eye on things, but if you know how to communicate effectively, with kindness and respect, you can get through disagreements with positive outcomes and the love intact!