Recently I read an article in USA Weekend Magazine called Better Parenting: Here’s a secret weapon. The article gives tips to reprogram how you approach parenting. In reading the article I realized that the advice for parents also applies when you are trying to communicate better as a couple, especially when dealing with difficult relationship issues.
So with thanks to USA Weekend for their inspiration, here are my 4 tips to help you communicate better with your spouse or significant other.
Stay Calm – Getting in a screaming match with your partner does nothing but escalate the situation. Simply saying to yourself, “stay calm” when you and your partner are having a heated discussion is about as easy as holding your breath underwater for 10 minutes – in other words, impossible. However, staying calm is exactly the approach you need to take if you have any hope of resolving your couple’s conflict. What can help you keep your cool is taking some deep breaths, thinking before you speak, and trying to stick to “I feel” statements rather than “you should” or “you did” statements.
- Stop Arguing – If the two of you are arguing, and things are heating up, and staying calm isn’t working, the best strategy is to take a “time out”. It’s really hard to have a good positive discussion and come up with solutions you can both agree on when you are boiling mad, hyperventilating and screaming at each other. If you take 20 minutes to cool down, you are often able to look at the issue with fresh eyes and a new sense of calm.
- Stop Trying to Reason – The couple’s version of this is to remember that each of you is an individual with your own thoughts, feelings, history and needs. Reasoning is accomplished with your brain, and often arguments are ruled by emotion. How do you stop trying to reason? Start trying to listen. A couple of tips for active listening are to ask non-defensive questions, and to repeat back what you are hearing.
- Have some fun – It is really important to have fun with each other. We often forget how to have fun as a couple when our bills are overwhelming, our water heater just blew up or we’re having problems with the kids. Try to schedule some time each week just for fun; examples are going for a walk, a bike ride or a hike, together. Stay away from potentially dangerous topics and just – laugh and have fun!
If you’re having trouble communicating as a couple, and you live in the Denver metro area, feel free to contact me for a free consultation. If you live outside the Denver area, contact your local mental health association for referrals to qualified couples counselors in your area. Often times a little (or a big) nudge is all you need to get you back on a healthy relationship track.