Speakers often are not clear themselves about what they mean, which almost assures that what they say will be unclear as well. Even when people know what they mean, they often do not say it as clearly as they should. They may hide their true feelings or ideas intentionally or unintentionally. Either way, people often get confused about other people’s messages.
Many of you may feel that your partner just doesn’t understand you and the more you try to explain yourself the worse it gets. It is easy to give up trying to communicate and end up letting feelings of frustration and hurt go unspoken. Communication takes effort and commitment to and even though it may seem a huge task it can be done.
Communication and Emotion
Do you find yourself reacting before you have had time to think about how you might want to respond? The way we communicate is intimately tied to our emotional sensitivity. When we are hurt in relationships and we keep retaliating or shutting down these hurts don’t get repaired. During this process people can lose touch with their emotional sensitivities and anger and bitterness can set in.
Anger increases a persons heart rate and jump starts the “fight or flight” system., which in turn makes it harder for them to think clearly and creatively.
So anger, if not kept at a minimum, can make it impossible to tap into the cognitive resources necessary to see the other person’s point of view and engage in collaborative problem solving (more info – communication and anger).
- Listen to the emotions behind your partner’s words. Being right isn’t as important as being understood.
- Focus on what your partner is saying rather than thinking up an answer or rebuttal.
- Be attentive to your partner’s response. Notice if you are giving too much detail. For example, if you are a detail person but your partner is not responding, then you can either ask for feedback and involvement or limit the conversation. People can be turned off if they feel like they are being talked at or the conversation is going on for too long.
- Look at the person who is talking to you. Many people don’t feel listened to unless they are getting eye contact.
- Use the word “I” rather that the word “you.” People tend to hear “you” in a sentence as an accusation, such as “You are yelling at me.” Compare that with “I feel yelled at,” and the speaker takes ownership for the feeling and does not come across as attacking.
- State things simply and ask your partner if more detail is needed.
Notice your partner’s reactions – the withdrawal/attack/glassy-eyed responses — and try to understand them. If the nonverbal responses anger you try using an “I” statement as mentioned above.
Communication and Couples Counseling
Therapists can make communication better, or they can make it worse. Skilled therapists can help speakers clarify what they are saying, and they can help listeners hear what is really meant. Over time they can help couples to recognize and repair the communication patterns that are preventing them from effectively solving problems, which is essential for couples to survive and grow.