I will help you practice some simple and powerful tools to improve your communication and negotiation skills. Together we will explore how you can enhance feelings of intimacy, caring, respect and love for each other.
The emphasis is on maintaining a sense of individual self-esteem and balance while finding ways to strengthen your relationship. Read on for a published interview of me, which will tell you more about my thoughts about couples in a committed relationship or marriage.
Tell me a little bit about yourself?"I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice for 20 years in the Oakland and San Francisco. I work mostly with adults, both individually and as couples. I've always loved working with people to help them in their relationships, as well as with any parenting issues that might come up. I also do a lot of work with people who are hoping to get into a strong, committed relationship and want help with dating."
What are common communication mistakes that married couples make?
"There are several fairly common mistakes that couples (whether married or not) make. One is, they forget to use "I messages" and go into blaming right off the bat. An example of an I message is, "When you don't call me to let me know when you're leaving work, I feel less cared for". Notice there is no accusation about why the partner didn't call; "just the facts" is the best way to start. Also, the "I" is followed by a feeling, which can't be contested; your feelings are your feelings, and are not wrong or bad. So the formula to memorize is When you (blank), I feel (blank). This ideally will be followed by a request. Using the previous example the request might be: "Would you please let me know as soon as you know when you'll be able to leave your work?" and it can also be helpful to say how this would help both people, e.g. "That way I'd feel more cared for, and I wouldn't be irritable when you get home". If every couple could get these "I statements" down, they'd have a much easier relationship."
"Another useful attitude is to take nothing personally. This is a lot to ask for most people, because it's simply human nature to take things personally. However, most conflicts that come up for couples are not actually personal; that is, it's not about you, as they say. For example, I once saw a couple where the wife was upset that her husband was not cleaning up more around the house. She took it as an indication that he didn't respect her or care about her time, and felt especially miffed b/c he was unemployed at the time, and presumably had the time to clean up. However, this was just his style and had no bearing on whether or not he respected her. When she could see this as more about him than about her it was easier for her to feel less upset about it and she could ask for change in a way that felt less threatening to her husband. Not taking things personally doesn't guarantee calm (what if he still did not do his fair share?) but it does help in getting to solutions more quickly, or in changing one's attitude about the problem in the first place."
What type of impact can poor communication have on a married couple's marriage?
"It can erode the good will that most couples share towards each other when they enter into marriage. It's very, very helpful to assume that your partner has a benign attitude towards you, and to trust that they are not out to harm you on purpose. Poor communication can get in the way of conflict resolution, and often it's crucial to talk more. At the same time, it is wonderful if couples can learn how to clear the slate, so to speak; to "start fresh". I often tell couples to say just that: "We had a hard time just now, but can we both just start fresh?" and then drop the subject. This technique is not a panacea, but it is amazing how simple but powerful it can be."
What are some effective forms of communication skills that married couples can use?
"If there were only two things I could say to married couples, it would be to memorize the two skills mentioned above: I statements and starting fresh/letting the issue go. It's a cliché, but there's wisdom in the question, "Would you rather be right or happy?" . Many conflicts can be bypassed by perfecting those skills. Additionally, couples can work on these sorts of things:
1. Admit it if you've gone into blaming, apologize and say you'd like to start over.
2. Don't be shy about saying you're sorry; those two words can go a long way, as long as they're not followed by "but"...
3.Try to remember what made you love this person in the first place. Sometimes we need to tap into those memories to get us through the hard times.
4. Remember that sometimes, marriage is simply hard, and that this is normal.
5. Decide that you are in the marriage for the long haul, if you haven't already; so much of loving someone is about deciding to be kind, deciding to love them, deciding to be generous with your forgiveness."
"These are some of the ways of being and thinking that can help most relationships be more fulfilling."
What advice do you have for a married couple that constantly has difficulties in communicating?
"Plan on finding a way to communicate better, be it through confiding in a friend who's in a strong relationship, reading books on communication, going to couple's workshops or seeing a therapist. Try to start working on the issues before they've had a chance to be the standard way of communicating for you."
Thank you, Diane, for doing the interview about how someone can effectively communicate with their spouse.