When my daughter was 2 ½, she was a biter. And by biter I don’t mean that she bit into bagels or apples.
She bit kids. Small kids, bigger kids. I watched her like a hawk but she continued. I had no idea why until she started attending speech therapy when she was three. Almost immediately, she was able to ask for what she wanted, and found that people responded. The biting ended.
Because of speech therapy, my daughter learned to communicate in a way that other kids could understand, and her distress at not being understood vanished.
Communication is the one of the main reasons that couples come in for counseling. When individuals cannot explain what they mean, and if their partners are unable to understand, the relationship can be in danger.
Here are some tips about making your communication better.
- Use “I” statements. Phrases like “I feel…” or “My feelings are hurt,” keeps your partner from feeling accused. Never speak for the other person. If they’re angry, instead of claiming you know that she’s angry, you can ask if she is.
- Make eye contact. Put down your phone, turn off the TV, and focus on what your partner is saying.
- Ask your partner if they understand what you’re trying to say. If they don’t, try to phrase it another way.
- When you have something important to discuss, wait until you and your partner are in a good place mentally. Don’t talk about important things during a fight.
- During an argument or fight, stick with one topic. Otherwise, you run the risk of having an never ending fight because everything is up for discussion. Some people call this “kitchen sinking,” because you fight about everything but the kitchen sink.
- When the discussion/argument gets heated, take a break. Allow yourself and/or your partner to step away from the conflict until you both feel calm enough to discuss things rationally.
- Use the ‘book end’ approach. Start the conversation with something positive and related to what you want to communicate. For example, “I appreciate that you make dinner every night.” After the positive statement, let your partner know what is bothering you: “I feel frustrated that I have the responsibility of cleaning up after you.” End on a positive note: “Last night’s dinner was fantastic, by the way. Thank you for cooking for our family.”
- Discuss or fight fairly. No name-calling or violence. Try to keep your voice at a normal level and your comments kind.
- Understand that you communicate in ways other than verbally. How you stand, your tone of voice, even your facial expressions express your feelings. Many couples find that if they are holding hands during the disagreement that the connection between the two of them remains strong.
- If all else fails, take a break from the discussion. Very few things have to be dealt with immediately. There is no shame in taking a few minutes or even an hour or so to calm down and collect your thoughts. But be prepared to discuss it later. Burying your feelings is not a good choice.
Communication is the foundation of a healthy relationship. Ideally, your partner will be able to communicate in a way that you can hear, and in a way that positively impacts your relationship.
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