Couples who make an effort to improve communication skills enjoy better relationships. Unfortunately, many people still don’t know how to communicate with their partners in a healthy and positive way.
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Dr. Darcy suggested, “Lack of communication is one of the main reasons behind divorce”. Couples often find themselves struggling to prevent heated arguments. The main reason for this failure is their inability to effectively communicate with each other. Resentment and distance become a regular occurrence when anger-fueled arguments are common.
Steps to Improve Communication Skills
There are several things you have to keep in mind if you want a healthy relationship. You need both partners working on their communication for that to happen. It is important to take time and effort to learn how to improve communication skills. This will definitely spark a positive change in your relationship.
1. Be Mindful of Your Words
A breakdown of respect and trust will definitely occur if you resort to name calling, insults, nagging, yelling, and plain sarcasm. Such communication breeds defensiveness and alienation between the partners. Negative communication will make your partner feel that they are in an unsafe space (G. L., Kathleen, & Carmen, 2011). This will prevent them from sharing their true feelings and opinions. The problem will never get solved if your partner is too scared to communicate with you.
On the other hand, you will solve the problem if you are able to discuss your issues in a healthier, positive way. It allows you to nip any relationship-ending problems in the bud. You need to take responsibility for the consequences of your words (Hanley, Garland, Hanley, & Dehili, 2015). This sense of responsibility will make sure your partner doesn’t get hurt.
Dr. Darcy points out, “The number one predictor of whether your relationship is headed for a cliff boils down to whether or not either you or your partner treats the other with contempt.” You must avoid judgmental words or loaded phrases that can have a negative effect. It can be tempting to push their buttons during a heated argument. However, such communication only damages the relationship. It can be dangerous for their self-esteem if you only point out their flaws. The argument is bound to derail into an unproductive fight.
2. Give Constructive Criticism
There does come a point in the relationship where you have to hand out criticism. Nevertheless, it can feel like an attack if this criticism is about a character trait or behavior in a general way. You need to make sure that your criticism has room to be taken constructively. It needs to be something that they can change; it should be specific, and temporary. You must never imply that that they are an inherently bad person instead of just their specific action being bad. General comments about their bad behavior can be justifiable if something has gone wrong.
However, if you dismiss them as inherently bad then you are removing your own responsibility to resolve the issue. The message that you will be putting out there is that without the person, you wouldn’t have a problem.The partner may feel helpless about the situation since they shouldn’t be asked to change something so basic (G. L., Kathleen, & Carmen, 2011).
Condemnations and general labels can make the person more defensive and hurt. They may give up on solving the problem even before you both make an attempt. It is vital that you phrase even your criticism in a positive way. It should imply that you can work on the issue together (Fredrickson, 2003). This is why it is important to improve communications skills, so you should be careful about how you phrase your words.
3. Avoid the Blame Game
Equally important, it is vital that you avoid any message that conveys blame or accusations. Negative messages will make your spouse less likely to respond to you. It will make it impossible to work on a solution if you are just focused on the blame game. It is better to focus on more productive ways to solve the issue (Weger, Castle, & Emmett, 2010).
For example, you shouldn’t say, “You always make a huge mess at home.” Instead, you can say, “It stresses me a lot when the home is messy.” The latter is a statement that leads with feelings instead of blaming the other person. This way, the other person will try to respond with empathy and it will be easier to find a solution. Softening the message can break down barriers and is one of the most effective ways to improve communication skills.
4. Don’t Get Distracted
A lot of couples can get distracted with other issues during an argument. Communication will definitely breakdown if you bring up past issues and begin to sling mud at each other. If you want to improve communication skills in your relationship, you must work to let go of things once they have been dealt with. This will allow you and your spouse to move forward.
Resurrecting old problems will distract you from the main problem at hand. This will hurt the significant other as well, who thought that you had forgiven them. They may feel as though the relationship isn’t moving forward at all, which is why burying the hatchet is so important.
5. No Negative Comparisons
To improve communication skills in a marriage, you must also avoid any and all negative comments about each other. It can be quite hurtful to be compared to other people and cause self-esteem to plummet (Arredondo, 2000). It may even make your partner feel as though they aren’t good enough.
For example, your spouse may think that they have managed to overcome the flaws of their parents. You can make them question themselves by comparing them to their parent with comments like ‘You ended up just the same as your father, didn’t you?’ This can create room for a lot of insecurities, making them question their self-worth. Unnecessary comparisons can also increase negative feelings such as jealousy. This is because comparisons imply that you are thinking about someone else.
These are toxic feelings that can be detrimental to the relationship. Improve communication skills in your relationship by ensuring that your partner feels secure. Comparisons can surely hurt the relationships, which is why you need to make sure you avoid them.
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6. Do Not Threaten
Solutions for problems will only emerge if you and your can partner talk in a calm and rational way. Resorting to threats like leaving the home, withdrawing emotions, stopping communication, threatening to cheat or divorce can lead to negativity.
Dr. Lancer observes, “Withholding love, communication, support, or money are indirect methods of control and maintaining power.” This is classified as emotional abuse since this can cause a lot of trauma for the spouse (Lancer, 2017). It implies that if the person doesn’t agree with what you say, they will be punished. It may work in the short-term but such behavior adds toxicity to the relationship. They may follow the threat but this is just because your partner may not want to deal with the consequence.
This in no way actually works to solve the problem but instead prolongs it. Improve communication skills by ensuring that you compromise and are emphatic. Your main focus should be on solving the situation, not on just making the problem go away. You should only consider ultimatums after you have exhausted all attempts to solve the issue.
7. Take Care of Nonverbal Gestures
Moreover, you should be mindful of the nonverbal gestures you make. Sarcastic tone, yelling, cold withdrawals, sneering, dismissive hand gestures, and closed off postures can be intimidating. Such nonverbal gestures may end up causing damage since your partner may feel that they aren’t getting through to you (Feldman, 2014).
It is better to improve communication skills by remaining calm and collected. Even if you are angry, try and explain why you are feeling this way. They will be able to empathize if you make an honest attempt to explain how you feel. They will be able to pick up if you are defensive very easily. This is why you need to make sure that your posture and facial expressions don’t relay a closing sentiment. Avoid rolling eyes, folding arms, tensing the jaw, fidgeting, and squinting. Nod and make eye contact when your spouse is speaking to show them that you are listening (Feldman, 2014). This will make your spouse feels safe and secure around you.
8. Send Clear Messages
Although you may have the entire context of the message in your head, it doesn’t mean that you are able to relay it effectively to your spouse. It is vital that your message isn’t vague or incomplete. This will make the other more confused than ever.
There is a way to make sure that the message you are sending is clear. Focus on the four main parts of the message (Reivich & Shatté, 2002)
• Observations: First, make an observation without any judgment or biases (Hanley, Garland, Hanley, & Dehili, 2015). It should be a neutral statement like ‘The house is messy’ instead of ‘You are a slob’.
• Thoughts: This part of the message will include the theories, beliefs, interpretations, and opinions you have on the whole situation. Do not communicate them as if you are sharing an Absolute Truth. It should be obvious that this is your personal understanding of the whole situation and you could be wrong.
• Feelings: Without putting blame on the other person, communicate your feelings. Make sure to word it so that they have room to empathize with you.
• Needs/Wants: The last part of the message should include what you think a solution can be. Your spouse is definitely not a mind reader. You need to tell them exactly what you want out of the whole conversation so that you both can work on it.
Clear messages can definitely improve communication skills since you are making healthy conversation.
9. Practice Active Listening
Active listening is important if you actually want to solve issues (Stanley, Bradbury, & Markman, 2004). This means that you need to calmly listen to what the other person has to say as well. You need to make sure that you don’t interrupt them while they are making their point. According to Alan Barker, “Communication is the process of creating shared understanding”. Take note of their behavior and try to thoroughly understand what they have to say. You may even want to summarize and repeat what they are trying to say so that they can correct you. This will limit misunderstandings between you and your partner.
Active listening is the most fundamental way to improve communication skills. It helps you build a solid rapport and avoid any miscommunication. It is a soft skill that will definitely allow you to have a healthier relationship with your spouse. Such a form of listening can
• Build trust with your spouse.
• Show support or concern for what they feel and think.
• A genuine effort to understand what they have to say.
• Show them that you have an interest in their opinions and feelings.
• Encourage productive communication since it enhances safety and security in the relationship.
• Reduce misunderstandings since you would require clarifications.
• Increase complete messages so that a complete understanding can take place and no one feels ignored.
• Ensure that you and your partner remain on common, shared ground.
All things considered, a marriage can be a wonderful and amazing relationship. It will be healthy and affectionate if the couple ensures that all their communication effort comes from a place of love. It is important to remember that you and your partner are one unit. If a couple understands that they are on the same side, it will lead to fewer arguments and more solutions. You and your partner must work together to make sure that the burden of communication isn’t on one person. It may take some time to improve communication skills but it is achievable through practice and dedication.