In my practice, I see so many couples who say they are seeking help for improving their communication skills. They work so hard adding to their communication tool belt. Typically feel disappointed that their relationships don’t seem to improve consistent with the number of communication techniques they’ve acquired.
Well, that’s because there is so much more at play than communication skills, per se. For example, the next time you and your partner tell each other you want to improve your communication, link communication to integrity rather than adding a new skill. It means being honest about what you feel, and taking responsibility for reducing your own emotional reactivity instead of blaming your partner for it when you’re in conflict.
If you take the stance such of, “Why should I have to change? He/She is the one with the problem!”, then you are not taking responsibility for yourself. Only you can change you, and only your partner can change your partner. So, improving your communication starts with changing your thinking about relationships in general, and changing your thinking about how you communicate under stress in particular.
Consider this: relationships are actually about two limbic systems, or two emotional brains, trying to get along. Your emotions play a crucial role in your attempts to communicate effectively. If you don’t keep reactivity at an acceptable level, the point you so want to make will probably get lost in an uproar. After all, the emotional or limbic brain, will almost always take priority over the logical brain, the prefrontal cortex.
When the emotional brain is activated, it wants one thing: relief. Because of how humans are wired, most of us will do just about anything to get that relief. And that’s when the going gets rough.
So, the idea of better communication is not about using the so-called “I” statements. It is about living with the integrity to take responsibility for your emotional states. It is also essential to effectively take charge of finding relief without demanding that your partner makes a change in order for you to feel better.
How do you do that?
1. Acknowledge that you’re feeling activated, rather than acting it out. For example, instead of calling your partner a name, instead express feeling angry, or frustrated, or whatever it is you are feeling.
2. Rather than blaming your partner for what you feel, try using the following formula:
When you do “A” in situation “B” I feel “C,” and that then I (insert behavior) “D.”
Here’s what it sounds like:
“Honey, when you (A) interrupted me in (B) our discussion, I (C) felt frustrated and irritated, and I (D) shutdown.”
3. As a listener let your integrity and credibility show. In response to the above, find some truth in your partner’s complaint, and offer the following:
“You’re right, sometimes I do interrupt you, and I know it leaves you feeling mad and frustrated, and then you shut down. In fact, sometimes I feel that way too. I am sorry.”
That, my friends, is how integrity and communication are interconnected. Try focusing on strengthening that connection in your relationship, and I trust both of you will be pleasantly gratified by the results.
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© Copyright 2010 by Jim Hutt, PhD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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