Mastering the Art of Communication in Love Relationships
By Zoe DiMele, LCSW
Published June 15, 2017
Most of us think our relationship with the person we married will continue in its honeymoon phase – forever. This is a fantasy. Real life sets in and when it does people’s deeper issues, sensitivities, needs and expectations bubble to the surface. Relationships actually take work. And most people don’t get that training from their parents, who also, through no fault of their own, didn’t understand what good relationship communication looked like and therefore were unable to teach it to their children. This can continue from one generation to the next for centuries! Good relationship communication is a language that must be learned like any other language. If no one teaches it to you, how can you be expected to know how to speak it?
What is necessary for good communication is a desire to hear and a desire to be heard. If you want to be heard, you have to speak in a way that facilitates listening by your spouse. How do you do that? Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Good tenets of communication are:
1. Keep the focus on yourself, not your partner. Make “I” statements like “I feel,” “I need, “I want.”
2. Listen to learn with curiosity and care. This has to be genuine. If you are simply waiting to counter your partner and win the point (and show your spouse how smart and right you are and therefore how stupid and less than you your spouse is), you only create hurt feelings, mistrust and alienation. And, by the way, your sex life is almost always a casualty of this form of communicating. You need to decide what’s more important, winning the point or having a safe and intimate relationship.
3. Reflect back what you hear your partner say; i.e. “So you would like me to go antiquing with you rather than stay home and watch the Super Bowl?” Sometimes when you just say,”I don’t want to go antiquing. I’m staying home to watch the Super Bowl!,” your partner hears, “You don’t care about what I need!”
4. Reflect back what you feel about what you hear without blame or shame; i.e. “I’m just really tired and have been looking forward to the Super Bowl all week. Can we find a compromise? What if I go antiquing with you next weekend?”
5. Empathize with what your partner is feeling. Look for mutuality; i.e. “I have felt that way too. I understand what you must be feeling.”
6. Empathize with what you are experiencing. “I understand what you want. I get why you would want that AND (not but) it makes me feel rejected and sad.”
I will simplify the tenets of ineffective communication because many of them have already been touched upon.
1. The need to be right and win. Instead, think of a desire to hear and be heard.
2. Violent communication. Violent communication constitutes any behavior verbal or non-verbal that is designed to hurt and humiliate your partner, like mocking, yelling, blaming, talking over your spouse, cursing, physical or sexual violence. Believe it or not, nonverbal violence includes things like eye rolling, hand gestures and other body language. Anything that is meant to hurt or demean the other person is violent communication.
In closing, I would like to say that marriage can be a very beautiful, rewarding and difficult experience. Whether it lasts a lifetime or is very brief, the real value of marriage is that it teaches us about ourselves, not the other person. If we truly learn about ourselves through marriage, no matter how long or short, it has been a success!