The key to any successful relationship is effective and positive communication, a feat that is typically easier said than done unless you have the right tools. When your relationship is stuck in a rut, or you are simply not being heard, give the following tips a try:
Sure your partner made you mad enough to want to drive off into the sunset, but discussing a topic while you’re upset will not get you far. Approaching someone out of anger will only be met with more anger, or worse, denial. When a person becomes defensive and denies the accusation at hand, your ire will only inflate. Be sure to start off the conversation by announcing your most vulnerable feelings, which will invite your partner to come to the conversation from a place of concern.
Refusing to tell your partner why you are hurt only begets more resentment. Claiming they should know what you are upset will never as helpful as simply disclosing what it is that you are upset about. Let your partner know exactly what is going through your mind, why you are upset and how they hurt you; then open yourself up for their response. Direct communication is the most sufficient way to avoid misunderstandings.
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Miscommunication will only exacerbate the current argument, so be crystal clear with your points. Snapping back when a comment becomes hurtful may result in you saying the wrong thing altogether. Pay attention to the words you use and choose carefully! Let your partner know as calmly as possible if they said anything that upset you, and they will likely try to avoid such words in the future. Keep in mind the point of this communication is to come to a productive and meaningful agreement, as opposed to figuring out who will be the victor in the end.
Rehashing arguments from the past won’t help you resolve current disagreements. Once a conflict arises, it’s important to only focus on the issue at hand. It can be easy to bring up past transgressions when calamity hits but fight the urge to fall into that trap. If you have noticed a pervasive behavior pattern, let your partner know, but don’t delve too deep into the past or the discussion will likely grow out of control. Stay on topic and be as respectful as possible if your partner is the one to wander off track.
Put on Your Listening Hat
While this may seem obvious, it is often the hardest task on this list. People are often in a rush to be heard that they do not stop to listen. Feel the back of your chair and take in what your partner is saying. Perhaps wait a moment or two to consider what they have said before responding. If you are thinking of your response before your partner has even completed their thought, you are most likely not listening as intently as you could be.
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If things get too heated, stick a pin in the conversation. Let your partner know you want to continue the talking after both of you have slept on your thoughts. It is totally OK to go to bed angry in this case. Once the discussion becomes unproductive, you are no longer getting anywhere, no matter how late you stay up. A well-rested partner is a happy partner, so be sure to take a break once the late night bell tolls. Tell your partner you are not simply walking away from the conversation, but rather you need to take a breather and would like to resume the conversation at an exact time the next day.
When it comes to communication, each couple will need to find a pattern that works for them. The guidelines listed here should help you come to an amicable conclusion, but be sure to keep your partner and their preferences in mind most of all. Stay focused, be clear, and be kind!
Kerry Hart, LLMFT is a couple and family therapist in private practice. She is located in both East Lansing and Grand Rapids. www.kerryhartcounseling.com