For couples to communicate effectively and be able to address issues together, the partners need to focus on their respective roles and responsibilities as the listening or the talking partner.
In my GoodTherapy.org article published last month, I wrote about the responsibilities of the listening partner to ensure effective communication. In this article, I will be discussing the talking partner‘s responsibilities.
As the talking partner, or initiator, you have several options in addressing issues. One is to attack your partner with a list of complaints in a way that shows you don’t believe that anything will change. If this is your choice, your partner is most likely going to defend him/herself by returning fire with a similar list of complaints or shutting down emotionally to avoid further critique and escalating conflict. As you probably have experienced, attacking your partner is not conductive to the two of you achieving a real understanding of each other’s differences.
When couples run into a pattern of attacking and/or avoiding behavior, they are reacting emotionally to each other’s complaints and critiques. Partners often have mixed feelings of anger and hurt. Furthermore, they most likely feel disrespected and mistreated by the other partner while they behave disrespectfully in turn. In this kind of vicious cycle, there is little goodwill, understanding of each other’s thoughts and feelings, or willingness to discuss different perspectives or points of view.
I suggest that you look at another option: refusing to react emotionally, taking a proactive stance, and preparing yourself before initiating a conversation with your partner.
Below are questions to ask yourself before you initiate a conversation with your partner:
- What is most important to you? Choose one topic to talk about. Stick to your topic throughout the conversation.
- What is your intention with the conversation? Do you want your partner to understand you better? Do you want to feel closer to your partner? Do you want an apology? Or do you want to punish your partner? If you are very upset, you might want to wait until you have calmed yourself and thought about your intention(s).
- What is the message that you want your partner to hear? What do you want your partner to understand about you?
- How do you want your partner to feel after the conversation? Do you want your partner to feel closer to you and hopeful about your future together? Or do you want your partner to feel guilty, shameful, and/or angry or hurt?
- How can you deliver your message so that the probability of your partner actually hearing you is the highest? What would be the best way to talk about your issue?
Here are a few more points to consider before you sit down with your partner for a conversation about what is important to you:
- Use “I” language instead of “you” language. If the conversation is more about you than your partner, it is easier for your partner to concentrate on what you are saying.
- Don’t attack your partner. Talk about how you feel and think about your topic.
- Don’t defend yourself. Talk about what is most important to you.
- Try to have five positive statements for each negative statement. Don’t forget to say what you appreciate about your partner.
Basically, how do you want to talk about your issue? Write down your points to keep your focus. Choose an appropriate time and place to present your idea in a new and more effective way. Make sure you ask your partner when a good time is for him/her to start. Also, make sure to tell your partner that you want him/her to be the initiator at a later time, and that you are willing to actively listen to what your partner has to say.
Practicing initiating a conversation about an important topic can improve your ability to communicate effectively with your partner.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Irene Hansen Savarese, LMFT
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.