Relationships, whether romantic or platonic, rely on effective communication. Unfortunately, this is a skill that doesn’t always come easily and can be a challenge with those to whom you are closest. Communication between you and your partner is always a work in progress—a lifelong pursuit. In fact, communication probably is the most important skill you will develop. As you dance toward realizing your full communication potential, you continuously expand as your relationship grows. These five tips will continue your efforts toward artful communication with your partner:
1. Be constructive with criticism
It’s important to select your words carefully; according to Dr. John Gottman, blatant criticism is “not constructive” but rather “winds up leading to an escalation of the conflict.” So, how do you become constructive with criticism? Talk it out without pointing a finger or leaving your partner feeling “less than,” and speak from “I feel” statements. One of my favorite techniques is to “make a request”—not a demand or ultimatum. If you feel like criticizing, take a step back and reevaluate your intentions. What do you hope to accomplish by criticizing? Ask yourself: Will this be effective?
2. Read between the lines
It’s no secret that what you say doesn’t always communicate what you mean. If you can’t pick up on exactly what your partner is trying to tell you, ask a clarifying question—but remember to do so gently. Try to read the underlying emotion. “I hear what you are saying, and I’m wondering if …” is a gentle directive that will steer a conversation in the right direction. Be prepared that you may not get the cooperation you are seeking. If this happens, back off and try again when the barometer reads “available.” Don’t forget to validate your partner’s feelings.
3. Don’t hold anything back
As previously mentioned, it’s important to think before you speak. If there’s something on your mind that you’d like to get out there, just say it. Articulate your words carefully, but don’t swallow your tongue and have your thoughts boil inside you. Your partner is there to share your dreams, triumphs, and failures. Share them. Most of what we want in life with our partner is a shared experience, while remaining true to ourselves. Remember to balance conversations about creating meaningful experiences together with acknowledging each other’s need for independence.
4. Lean on each other
Your partner should be your biggest fan and your shoulder to cry on. Dr. Sue Johnson uses the term “effective dependency” or, in her words, “the more you know how to turn to other people.” I like to use the word interdependence, as human beings cannot survive without each other. Although your partner cannot be everything you might expect, you should be able to rely on him or her when the need arises. Therefore, lean on each other respectively.
5. Exercise your relationship
Like playing any sport, learning a new instrument, or perfecting a craft, artful communication takes practice. We all respond and react differently; it takes practice to become emotionally intelligent. Practicing good communication is worth the effort. Read some good books on the subject, such as Emotional Intelligence by Travis Bradberry or Dr. Johnson’s Hold Me Tight, or visit www.gottman.com for some expert advice. Ask: What do I hope to gain from this? What are my intentions?
- Dr. Gottman’s Four Negative Patterns That Predict Divorce (2012, July 11). Retrieved Aug. 28, 2012, from AndersonCooper.com: http://www.andersoncooper.com/2012/04/17/dr-gottman-four-negative-patterns-that-predict-divorce/
- Tartakovsky, M. (2012). 5 Communication Pointers and Pitfalls for Couples. Retrieved Aug. 28, 2012, from PsychCentral: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2011/5-communication-pitfalls-and-pointers-for-couples/
- Yalom, V. (2011). Sue Johnson on Emotionally Focused Therapy. Retrieved Aug. 28, 2012, from Psychotherapy.net: http://www.psychotherapy.net/interview/sue-johnson-interview/
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