“If I've said it once, I've said it 100 times!" How often does it feel like we've said the same things to our partner over and over again? After so long, we might wonder if our partner is even listening. I know I’ve felt that way. With as many barriers to communication as there are, it can be helpful to take a step back and evaluate the approach we take when we want to communicate our feelings and needs. After reflection, we might discover that we are not quite sharing what we really feel and need in that moment of conflict. I have had to ask myself, “Am I being clear about my feelings? Am I making a clear request?”
I’ve outlined some communication skills that might create positive changes in your relationships:
- Try not to assume that our partner knows what we mean, or what we are trying to say. Be clear with your message by stating what you want from the situation. I can recall being upset in the past because I assumed that my partner knew what I meant when I said “we were invited to a family gathering this weekend, if you want to come”… What I didn’t initially realize was that I failed to directly make it clear that I really wanted him to join me.
- Use "I" statements as opposed to "you" statements that can feel blaming. Example: "I feel worried when you forget to call me when you're running late from work, because I’m afraid that something happened to you", instead of: “You're always late, you never call me!"
- When making a request, reinforce the positive outcomes that can occur if your partner is able to meet your needs. Outlining the potential benefits might help them feel better about responding to your request. For example: “If you can help me by taking the dog out when you wake up in the morning, I think I’d feel much more relaxed, and would probably stop distancing myself from you at night”.
- Use validation to let your partner know that you are listening. You don't have to agree with or like what they're saying, but reflecting back by saying: "It sounds like that really upsets you”, or “I hear that you're frustrated right now" can make a big difference!
- When it seems as though you are unable to agree, try to negotiate a workable compromise that feels fair to BOTH of you! What are you willing to give up or accept in the current situation? What is your partner willing to give up? Remember that any movement is better than no movement.
With practice, we might start to notice a shift in our interactions with our partners, in a way that can allow for greater understanding and mutual respect. Navigating relationships can be challenging but very rewarding when we’ve found a way to maintain harmony. Consider seeking help from a therapist if you’d like additional support and resources!
Kimberly Vitolo, MS, LMFT Marriage and Family Therapist