“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” ~ Rollo May (late psychologist/psychotherapist)
Communication is key in not only healing from wounds in relationship but also – as Rollo May states (above) – it is essential in truly understanding another person, being understood yourself, and cultivating intimacy and mutual respect together. The following skills are helpful in gaining this awareness and seeking clarity in the midst of conflict:
[*I consistently use the word spouse in the following explanations but these skills can also be applied to other close relationships such as dating relationships, family relationships, & friendships.]
- Listen rather than Defend
When conversations become emotionally difficult, the normal feelings of anxiety and fear can leave us wanting to defend ourselves. We desire for our loved on to view us in a positive light. Therefore, defensiveness can be a typical response when discussions become heated. However, defending oneself often creates a wall, blocking our ability to truly empathize with the other person and genuinely hear his or her concerns. Instead of defending yourself, “lean in” to this discomfort and accept it as normal. Then attend to your spouse, putting aside your own discomfort, and focusing on what his or her message is. Doing this for one another allows each individual to have the validating experience of having his/her voice recognized and valued.
- Ask rather than Assume
When engaging in discussions about tough topics, resist assuming. Assuming to know your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions impedes progress in communicating clearly. Our assumptions may be based on past experiences (even with other people) and can often be incorrect. Similar to defensiveness, assuming can be a near-automatic response when in the midst of an argument. Difficult topics often make us feel vulnerable. Out of fear of being hurt, assuming to know is a way of “having a leg up” in the moment of relational struggle. Yet, it typically causes more confusion and miscommunication by invalidating the other person’s true ideas and feelings. Instead, approach your spouse with honest curiosity and a willingness to respect their response.
- Own your choices/thoughts/feelings rather than Blame them on your spouse.
Taking responsibility for your own choices, thoughts, and feelings is essential in promoting honesty and trust between you and your spouse. Use “I” and “me” statements rather than “you” statements when explaining your ideas and feelings. [ Example, saying: “When we discuss difficult topics, I feel misunderstood.” Rather than: “You never try to understand me when we have difficult conversations.”]. Blaming only further pushes your spouse away in tough conversations. Taking ownership of what you are personally responsible for cultivates a space for respect and compassion to flourish, enabling healthier, less aggressive dialogue to occur.
Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.