The two most important skills needed for productive communication: Listening and Validating
Communication between partners breaks down when there are defensive reactions such as: blame, criticisms, putdowns, name calling, sarcasm, interruptions, withdrawal, etc.
Underneath these non productive reactions is often hurt, fear, unmet needs and wants and sadness. Old feelings buried inside us from previous relationships and childhood trigger are self protective behaviors. Just like our physical immune systems, these defenses protect us from the threat of hurt and pain when we feel, believe or are really under emotional or verbal attacks.
When couples have conflcit these self protective devices often kick in automatically.
When the threat of conflict is over, we can relax, put down our “verbal weapons” and begin to talk more openly and honestly about how we feel. But what if we do not feel safe. What if we feel our partners are going to continue to judge and criticize us if we really say how we think and feel. Many couples at one time or another can get stuck in these defensive patterns of communication and believe they have no way out. Tension and ice walls build between partners to the point where they begin to question their love and even “like” for each other. When couples go to counseling for help they often will say:
– “We don’t communicate with each other.”
– “We fight all the time and disagree about everything.”
– “We don’t fight at all, but we don’t talk either and it’s killing me.”
– “I’m so lonely because he never wants to talk.”
– “Everytime I go to talk to him he tells me all I do is bitch at him for everything.”
– “Whenever I start to talk about something that is bothering me, he just wants to fix it and not really listen.”
– My partner continually tells me how wrong I am, it’s better to just keep my mouth shut!”
Relationships often start with an abundance of listening to each other. It feels so good to be heard and accepted for whom you are. This is the foundation of a close loving relationship. But slowly over time the listening may become less and less as poor communication patterns develop between partners. Can these patterns be corrected? Yes absolutely! But it takes some willingness to learn how to get un stuck!
What you can do
– First off someone has to say I want this to change. I don’t like the way we talk (or don’t talk) and want to improve and I am willing to start looking at my side of our pattern.
– I suggest that partners adopt some “ground rules of talking”. These rules suggest that one partner talks at a time, partners speak for themselves and use “I” satements and that the floor gets shared. No interruptions! If partners struggle with face to face communication, they can start this process by writing to each other.
– Learning to listen means jumping into your partners shoes and making a real effort to understand what they are saying from his or her perspective. Listening to what your partner is saying and how she is feeling. You must learn to suspend your own judgments for awhile when listening.
– Validating someone means you let them know that you hear what they are saying. This could be a simple nod of your head or brief words like “Wow you had a rough day”; “That must have hurt your feelings”; “You sound so excited”. Validation does not mean you always agree with or accept what your partner is saying, but that you do understand what your partner is saying and feeling. When it is your turn to talk, you can explain how you think and feel. You have a much better chance of being heard if you listen and validate your partner.
These skills can be learned and practiced. For Ground Rules for Talking,
see pg 17 in my book Taking Space
Couples Home Study Course and Workbook, Step 2 CD