We’ve talked about conflict, but that can be avoided through solid communication. What are some of your tips for becoming a better communicator? What are some strategies for healthy communication? When was a time you were completely misunderstood or completely misunderstood someone else? How does communication affect your relationships, and how does it help you prepare for your vocation?
Let me begin by admitting that not all conflict can be avoided through solid communication. That’s probably hyperbole. I do think it helps, though. Misunderstandings can cause anger to rise up in even the coolest of heads. I shared my best advice when I wrote about conflict, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be finished talking about talking, as it were.
I used to do marriage prep (for other couples, not for myself), and one point that I learned to drive home was the importance of developing good communication and problem-solving skills before marriage. Granted, I’d imagine most couples that make it all the way to marriage prep have resolved conflicts before and learned to communicate at least adequately. Yet part of my role as a facilitator was to be able to verify through my own observation that each couple could demonstrate those skills. You can make all kinds of claims without any evidence. Anecdotal evidence is still evidence.
So, to the best of my ability and based on each couple’s needs, I would guide them through healthy problem-solving by way of intentional communication. It was awkward at first, but so is walking, and that’s pretty important, too. Almost every couple agreed that it was useful to have some sort of fallback “rules” in place for fighting fair.
Problem-solving starts with defining the problem. Here’s my advice for the one who’s bringing it up (a.k.a. starting the fight):
- What’s wrong? Identify or clarify some situation or problem that you are not satisfied with. It can be as simple as how much TV you watch or as complicated as expressions of intimacy.
- What’s wrong about it? Describe the situation to your partner, focusing on your role in creating/sustaining it, avoiding blame, and identifying specific aspects that you want to change.
- What do you want him/her to do about it? Offer suggestions (at least two) for resolving the situation. Don’t suggest anything you don’t actually want to happen.
I think the suggestions are really important. It’s much easier and less productive to just say you’re unhappy. Sometimes, when you have to consider how to solve the problem, you might realize that (a) there’s nothing your partner can do about it, or (b) you’re responsible for the problem, so you really just need support as you solve it. I’ve been there before.
If you’re the other partner (i.e. you didn’t start the fight), there are two possibilities. If the unsatisfactory situation was mutually identified (i.e. this conversation is one you’re having to try to resolve an argument already in progress), you will probably go through the same process I outlined above.
If not, you might feel blindsided because you didn’t see it coming. Here’s my advice for that side:
- What’s wrong? Listen to your partner describe the situation. Ask questions to figure out or clarify what he/she is thinking or feeling.
- What do you think? Take some time to think or reflect. Share your point of view on the situation. What do you think is wrong, what’s wrong about it, and what are your suggestions?
- What do you want to do about it? Consider the suggestions your partner offers. Are you willing to try one of them?
I also have some basic communication pointers for both parties:
- Don’t interrupt. This one is hard for me; I am kind of an interruptosaurus. I’m working on making it an act of mercy to let someone finish before I jump in with my thoughts. In serious conversations, when I think I might forget something if I don’t interrupt, I’ll write it down. Yeah, that’s awkward, too, but it works!
- Don’t assume you know what someone else is thinking or feeling or how your conversational partner is going to respond. You can’t see the future. You can’t read minds. You can’t read hearts. Get comfortable asking, “How do you feel about that?” and “What do you think?”
- Don’t be afraid to say, “I hear you. Now is not a good time. Can we talk about this later?” The catch is that you have to define “later.” “Later” should not be a synonym for “never.” One tip I’m picking up is that couple/family business meetings are super useful. The “date night” movement is thriving. I’m rooting for the “budget meeting” and “weekly review” movements.
Most of what I’ve learned about communication I have learned with an eye to marriage. If I can’t talk openly and honestly with the man I’ve promised to sacrifice for until one of us dies, I will be in a pretty sore spot. The handy thing is that I have plenty of relationships to practice with in the meantime: close friends, coworkers, and sometimes even family. If I never marry, the communities I’m already part of are enriched by my efforts at improving my communication skills.
This blog also helps. Thank you for reading.
Next week’s topic: Adulting Revisited
Adulting is hard, sometimes. So many transitions. Making friends. Starting jobs. Building community. What are some ways that have gotten you through?
The lovely Laura of A Drop in the Ocean will be hosting!
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