By: Steve Gainey, MA, LLP, ADS, CAADC, EAC Clinical Specialist – Effective communication is critical to healthy relationships. When there are communication issues and communication is lacking, conflict tends to occur. One of the main issues I have seen in my 30 plus years of working with couples is conflict communication. The conflict usually focuses on who is right, rather than how a resolution can be made between both parties – with respect. My view of couples counseling is basically the same as individual therapy – just with a couple. With that said, focusing on relationship issues is important, but a key component to communication is recognizing that each party has come into the relationship with their own personality, including how they each deal with conflict (even before they ever met).
If you want to have healthy and effective communication in your relationships, here are 10 communication mistakes to avoid and what you should do instead.
1. Making Assumptions. You assume something. When you assume, it now becomes a fact. Instead, it is helpful to be curious and to ask clarifying questions like, “Are you saying or feeling….is this what you mean?”
2. Using Always and Never. This is overgeneralizing when you are talking about a specific incident. It is usually not true, and it puts your partner into a position of defending themselves. Rather, be specific with an example.
3. Talking to your partner when they are focusing on another task. If you need to talk, wait for them to finish. If you need them immediately, ask them in a kind calm voice that you need a few minutes of their time.
4. Being Defensive. A teacher once told me, “Most people listen so they can respond.” This means you are just waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can give your opinion. Listening does not mean you totally agree with them. Listen first and give feedback on what they said to confirm you are clear on what they are saying before you respond.
5. Giving advice before being asked to give it. Let your partner ask for your advice. Many times, they just want to be heard. If you interrupt them before they are done, they may think you are telling them what they should do or feel.
6. Telling your partner that they should NOT feel that way or it does not make sense for them to feel that way. When we discount our partners feelings, we are likely to escalate how they feel. Instead, validate their feeling. For example, you may say, “So, you’re angry at your brother.” You may not understand why, but you are validating their feeling.
7. Lecturing. Your partner is an adult, not a child. You will sound condescending and the issue will turn into how you are talking to them and not the issue. Think about how you would like to be talked to in the situation.
8. Not being Mindful of your Speech. How you say something – your tone, your look, your body language – often has a bigger impact than what you are actually saying. It will make your partner shut down and/or become defensive. Be mindful of your words and actions.
9. Interrupting. Similar to being defensive, when you interrupt, you are saying, “I’m going to give you MY opinion, before you are finished with yours.” Listen first.
10. Changing the Subject. One party brings up an issue and the other party now states, “Well, you have done that too.” Or they bring up some other issue. The original concern, then, does not get addressed.
Reading these communication mistakes together as a couple, WITHOUT saying, “See you do #6 all the time”, can be helpful in your relationship communication. Remember, most of us do these – and not just with partners, but also with other family members and co-workers. Communication is always a work in progress. If you would like to improve your communication skills – whether individually or in your relationships, contact EAC. We are here to help!