Communication in relationships is about connecting and using verbal, written and physical skills to fulfill the needs of you and your partner. We use communication effectively when we are reassuring, when we can ask for our needs to be met, when we can encourage and soothe our partner, when we can create a boundary and new agreements. However, we all know that communication between partners is not always so easy. We are after all, people, and people are hard.
All of us in relationship and those that strive to be in one, want to be loved and feel connected. Developing a healthy communication style makes conflict easier to manage and when we have healthy communication in our primary relationship, other dimensions of life become easier. Think about strong communication skills as an upgrade to your life.
Conflict in a relationship is virtually inevitable. Conflict is not a problem and how it is managed, can “make or break” the relationship. Poorly managed conflict can lead to ineffective communication and avoidance in relationships both causing resentment.
Good communication skills may not solve every problem or resolve all issues, but it is a good place to start in making each other feel safe and heard.
Working with a therapist can help you navigate the intricacies of a difficult dynamic or one in which there is entrenchment of old behavior patterns. There are things though, that can get people started on a healthier road to communication. Here are some tips:
(1) Make time (and it might not be right now): Often when we get into conflict, we are taken off guard and sometimes we are treading old territory. In either case, it is important to slow down and be mindful. Which by the way, is the exact opposite of what the brain on conflict wants. Because it is uncomfortable to be in conflict with our loved one, we want to resolve it RIGHT NOW! “I mean seriously, I am in pain here, let’s talk right now at a hundred miles an hour and… I go first.” Okay, you get it.
The most effective way to start managing conflict is to slow down and check in. Because all our little conflict scouts are out and starting to make a case, I want to be heard immediately. By checking-in with our person and asking if they are open to discuss what I want to get off my chest right now. If not, we can ask for a time (within a brief period, like an hour, at dinner, after the kids go to bed, tomorrow at breakfast, etc) No one likes to get their day busted up with a conflict that is a surprise and is one they feel unprepared for.
There are few things that need immediate attention, but if this is one start with an agreement of time. This is important even if you have agreed on a specific time to talk (that is not RIGHT NOW.)
(2) Make it time delimited: Make an agreement for a reasonable period of time. I recommend no more than an hour. If there is more to discuss, choose the top 3 items in order of importance so that both partners get an opportunity to fully talk about what is important to them about the particular issue. Then make time at a later time to talk more. Conflict that goes on for too long with couples may cause fatigue causing people to give up and then feel resentful of the other person.
(3) Have a structured dialogue. In addition to making it time delimited, also create structure and agreements first. For instance, my husband and I agreed a long time ago to never swear at each other or call names. This has gone a long way in creating safety and security in our arguments. The other structure that you can use is the Imago Couples Dialogue. Then each partner is sure to be heard and validated. In the dialogue one partner is the sender and the other is the receiver. Each partner takes a turn being the sender and receiver and follows three processes called: Mirroring (a kind of paraphrasing), Validation, and Empathizing.
(4) Be Kind: This is last but not least and probably should be the first thing we pay attention to. When we have conflict our brains go into battle and our higher natures do not always shine through. Smiling, and letting your partner know that the conflict needs discussing but that we are still on the same team is important. It signals our person that we are okay. It helps to de-escalate our partner’s brain from going into defense and it is critical in working toward a common resolution. When we are in a friendly posture, I am more likely to keep my partner ‘in the room’ with me rather than on the battlefield we once created with our conflict. When my partner and I have full access to our brains rather than just the fight, flee, or freeze response of the protective brain, we are able to solve problems that are creative and in service of the relationship.
The name of the game is that when we have conflict, we want to be effective and solve the issue as efficiently as possible. The longer we stay in suffering with each other, the worse it becomes for the relationship. When we can keep our emotional sobriety in check, it enables us to develop a deeper connection with each other, to nurture each other, to soothe and help each other, and to learn how to fight fair and heal their relationship quickly when things get off track.
Have a question for Marianne or interested in working with her? Contact Marianne at Contact Us Today. She would love to hear from you!