Updated: May 12, 2022
They say that the key to a good relationship is communication. I don’t know who “they” are supposed to be, but they’ve been saying it for years on end, so I’m inclined to believe them.
Luckily, science agrees with them. There’s a lot you can do with a relationship if you’re able to communicate well with someone, and a lot of issues in a relationship can be traced back to miscommunications or misunderstandings. Knowing how to work through communication issues to be clear and gracious toward each other can go a long way to making life – even life after this pandemic – survivable.
Here are some strategies for communicating better with your loved ones – whether they are your significant other or not! If you want a TL;DR of this, scroll to the end for a poster one of my fellow clinicians put together that lays it all out nice and pretty-like.
You probably don’t realize it, but there are often unspoken rules to how your conversations go, and if these rules are broken, you get pretty upset. Maybe you need someone to make eye contact with you when they’re talking – or maybe you need them to not make eye contact. Maybe you hate it when people interrupt you; maybe you feel relieved when someone is picking up your thought process and can finish your sentence for you. Perhaps, when you’re talking to someone and they pull out their phone and check a message they got, you silently want Zeus to chuck a lightning bolt straight at that intrusive piece of technology...or maybe you do the same thing and figure they’re still listening to you.
If you want to bolster your conversations and take your relationship to the next level, or if you just want to make sure you and your sibling have more inclinations to hug each other rather than choke each other out, it might be good to set up some rules for how your conversations go. Especially if you tend to argue and fight more than actually converse.
They don’t have to be super formal rules, but making expectations clear can save a lot of time and headaches. So take some time to agree on rules for talking with each other. It could be something as simple as “don’t interrupt” or “don’t look at your phone,” to something like “let’s speak from our own experience and not assume the other person’s thoughts.”
Once you have these down, a lot of things get easier.
If you find yourself in a conversation that gets too heated, and you feel like you need some space lest you do or say something you’ll regret later, you might could use a time out.
You think I’m kidding.
Think about what happens in your body when you start getting upset in a conversation. Do you start getting hot? Does part of your body start tingling? Maybe you realize that your words start getting sharper. Or maybe you notice that all you feel is anger or frustration toward the person you’re talking to, instead of the typical feelings of love or brotherhood or friendliness you usually feel.
When this happens, call a time out.
Agree to walk away from the conversation for anywhere between 30 minutes and a couple hours – however long it takes you to cool down and bring your blood pressure down a bit (usually the time frame is an hour, but don’t let me control your life). Agree that while you’re away, you’ll try to calm yourself down. Do some deep breathing, take a nap, eat (hangry is a real emotion), jam out on your ukulele...whatever works for you.
Then agree to come back and finish the conversation. Some people apologize when they come back, some people hug it out, some people thank the other person for a chance to collect themselves. Something to that effect helps keep the Conversation Part Two from being an encore of Part One.
One caveat, though: it’s important to only call a time out for yourself. Things get messy if you decide the other person needs a time out and you try to call it for them. Trust me, this strategy works best if you’re just focused on your own emotions. Trust the other person to know their own emotions well enough to need a break.
Listen and Repeat
Sometimes the breakdowns in communication happen because you end up talking past someone else, and you’re not responding to something they actually said. Or sometimes you find yourself listening just long enough to respond and the person you’re talking to doesn’t feel heard. It happens. I’ve done it.
A good way to nip this bud is an activity that sounds simplistic, but has completely revolutionized the way some people have experienced difficult conversations: Listen and Repeat.
With this strategy, Person A is the speaker, and Person B is the listener/repeater. You decide who goes first.
Person A, say what you want to communicate in a few sentences – the fewer, the better.
Person B, listen to what Person A is saying, and then literally repeat what they said back to them, word for word. Let Person A hear you and agree that what you’re saying is what they originally said.
Now, Person B, respond to what Person A said. Again, keep it brief.
Person A now gets to repeat exactly what Person B said. Once Person B agrees that what you repeated back is what they originally said, then Person A can respond.
It sounds like an onerously slow way to have a conversation, but sometimes it helps communicate what was missed before. After all, what you were doing before wasn’t working. Why not try this out?
I know this was a lot for this post, but if you made it this far, kudos to you! Hopefully these strategies will help you if you’re having some trouble with communication potholes. Clearing up expectations for how you and your loved one will communicate, giving yourself room for a time out, and slowing the conversation down to make sure you listen and can repeat what was said to you, are grand tools for surviving the pandemic as well as the weekend! Maybe what “they” say is true after all!
If you feel that you are struggling with any kind of emotional or behavioral health problems and are in need of therapy services please do not hesitate to contact the PSC and schedule an appointment. Stay tuned for a new post next week!