Communication is Key
Jul 09, 2013 08:46AM, Published by Style, Categories: In Print
This month’s article focuses on communication, one of the essential aspects of healthy relationships.
While I primarily write about marriage/romantic relationships, the same principles of communication apply to virtually any relationship. In fact, I encourage couples that are struggling at home with communication skills they’re learning, to practice them at the office. Work relationships don’t have the same emotional attachments or baggage that our primary relationships have, and thus can be a safe place to practice. The following questions represent some of the more common struggles couples have communicating:
Q: My wife keeps bringing up the past and holds previous mistakes over my head every time we have a fight. I usually respond by getting extremely angry before shutting down. I’m afraid she’ll never forgive me. How can we move on?
BOB: When your wife repeatedly circles back to past hurts, she needs you to understand her, but doesn’t know how to tell you. Instead of getting defensive, empathetically acknowledge how your actions hurt her, focusing on her feelings. I tell people to “sell it with your eyes,” as your eyes communicate in ways your words alone can’t. In order to keep from becoming defensive, remind yourself that her feelings are not about you. Lastly, don’t try to “fix” anything; she won’t feel heard if you’re trying to “fix” her.
Q: When my husband and I argue, he won’t stop until he’s finished. I try to leave the room when things get really loud, but this infuriates him, and he accuses me of avoiding the issue and running away from him. How can we work things out when they escalate so fast?
BOB: Your husband probably feels unheard and is afraid the issue won’t get resolved. It’s difficult to see when you’re being yelled at, but this is the only way he knows how to express his anxiety. While you may need to a take time-out to calm down and collect your thoughts, he also needs the security of knowing that the issue will be resolved soon. The easiest solution to your “pursuer-distancer” dynamic is to:
• Tell him you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a time-out to collect your thoughts.
• Tell him you intend to return to resolve the issue, and then agree upon a specific time to come back and focus on hearing each other and resolving the issue.
Q: Whether we’re arguing or I’m trying to connect with my husband, it seems he’s always getting defensive and doesn’t understand me. How can this be solved?
BOB: If your husband frequently misinterprets your intentions, or gets defensive for no apparent reason, he may either be blaming himself, or feel blamed by you. “I” statements keep the focus on you, and owning your own feelings, values or beliefs, without putting anyone on the defensive. “I” statements usually begin with: “I feel…when…happens,” “I would like…,” etc. Example: I felt dismissed yesterday when you didn’t introduce me to your coworker. Although there may be a “you” in an “I” statement, it should do nothing more than give context.
Bob Parkins is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and can be reached at 916-337-5406, firstname.lastname@example.org or bobparkinslmft.com.