Sunday, January 16, 2011

Effective Communication

Effective communication is when the message you are sending is the same message that is heard by your spouse. Effective communication is the key to a successful marriage. Effective communication, however, requires is a little effort from both partners. Communication is a three-step process that includes listening, understanding what you've heard, and expressing yourself. A problem at any point can cause misunderstandings. Learning healthy communication can help you to navigate marital challenges and improve the emotional bond in your marriage.

The hubby and I are members of a Sunday School class that is run by the church counselor, Dale. Dale is a great teacher and, from what I can tell, an excellent counselor. During some of our Sunday School classes, Dale has gone over a way to communicate with your spouse.

I have done some research on his way, it's called Reflective Listening. Reflective listening helps partners learn to listen to each other.

In the reflective listening technique, you and your spouse take turns speaking and listening. As the listening spouse, you concentrate on keeping your focus totally on what your spouse is saying. When your spouse finishes, you then repeat back to your spouse what was said in your own words. (But, take note, now is not the time to respond to your spouses feelings, now is the time for listening.) Once both feel that the speaker has correctly expressed what was said, the speaker will take a turn listening while the listener expresses his/her feelings or concerns about the subject.

I have seen some people suggest designating an object for the speaker to hold. Neither partner can speak without holding this object. Dale has suggested that we, the partners, hold hands. One person speaks without interruption while the other listens attentively. When the speaker is done, they squeeze their partner's hand, then, the listener "reflects" what he/she heard by paraphrasing it. The couple then changes roles so each person has a chance to speak.

Sharing should be done in small bits so that the listener can process the information better, so this may need to be done over and over and over. After the speaker is satisfied and have shared all of their feelings, switch roles. The point at which communication frequently breaks down is not in the speaking or the listening, per se, but in failing to check frequently to see if one really hears and understands what the other means, feels, and intends. This is one reason that the “reflecting” part of this exercise is important. Two people can say and even understand an endless flow of words back and forth between them. But unless each cares enough about what the other is saying, and about what his own words mean to the other, communication will not occur. Caring about what another person says and thinks and feels is, of course, the same as caring about that person as a person.

A key hint, “reflecting” time is not time to respond to what your partner has told you. It is time to merely reflect and understand what your partner is trying to communicate. Once your partner is done, and you have switched roles, then you may respond to what your partner said and share your feelings.

Dale went a step forward and suggests that when you and your partner have a conflict, the speaker starts by sharing their feelings, then sharing their proposal for a solution. Then the listener does the same. He points out that men are intense seekers of solutions so it helps men not to dread these conversations if there are actual resolutions to the problem. And women, don't leave it up to the man to always have the answers, have some ideas yourself.

As I looked for more information on Reflective Listening, I found more information that I want to share. Don't think that I know it all, or that I am a counselor. I don't even consider myself a good communicator, this is just part of me seeking to improve myself.

Here are some tips for effective communication:
* Use eye to eye contact. This is difficult for some of us. I have always had trouble looking into another's eyes when I am uncomfortable or when I am not sure what I am going to see. I also tend to “look for my words” I have such a fear of saying the wrong thing and disappointing someone that I constantly look for words on the air. I can't make eye contact and then I start to babble. (Yeah, I'm definitely not an expert on communication.)
* Use sensitive touch. Touch your partner. Communication is very different when loving touch is involved. In effect, love making is considered to be one of the most effective methods of communication, positive communication. But, be careful that it conveys your feelings and thought, not your lust.
* Use words. Verbal communication leaves no room for doubt of what you are trying to convey. Verbal communication gives a sensation of sharing, care and dependability.
* Write it down. Where verbal communication can be misinterpreted, especially during a fight. You might believe you said one thing while your spouse insists he/she heard another. Call a timeout and communicate about the issue in writing. It is harder to misinterpret words written on paper. You can go back to talking about the issue once you have both calmed down.
* Use positive language rather than negative language. This will make your spouse feel wanted rather then feeling bossed.
* Find the right time to talk about sensitive issues. Make sure your partner is ready to talk and both of you are "even keeled."

Some other things that you need to learn:

To Express Negative Feelings Constructively
Negative feelings have to be expressed in order for couples to be able to adapt and adjust to eachother's needs. Holding in all negative feelings will do more harm than good, tension will build up like a pressure cooker.

Some people mistakenly think that they can maintain peace at home simply by restraining all of their negative feelings. I know that this is me. On more than one occasion, I have just tried to "keep the peace" by keeping my mouth shut. In the end I have felt neglected, undervalued, and unappreciated. Keeping my mouth shut has only compounded problems. This is not all my spouse's fault. It was my responsibility to speak up and I didn't

In order to express your negative feelings,
Don't exaggerate or use absolutes. Exaggerating may help you let off steam, but it will put your partner in the defensive and effectively result in a shut down of communication.

* Don't mindread. You do not know what your partner is thinking and trying to guess will only offend your partner.

* Use more "I" statements and less "You" statements. A criticism which begins with, "You…" is perceived as an attack and will put your partner on the defensive. Using "I" statements can help you avoid blaming or criticizing your partner by keeping your focus on expressing how you feel and how you may be affected by your spouse's behavior. When expressing your feelings, you "own" your feelings and opinions by using the word "I". Expressing complaints using "you" passes judgment and implies that you know your spouse's motivation. Instead, say, "I feel …" Using "I" statements is helpful in stopping the argument cycle that is created when spouses feel attacked or criticized in tense conversations.

* Don't generalize. Be specific and try to give examples. Broad generalizations make it difficult for your partner to hear you, like an exageration, it puts your partner on the defensive.

* Try to take the emotion out of your disagreements. Talk to each other in a tone that will cause your spouse to want to hear you.

To Listen to Negative Feelings Non-defensively
For a marriage to succeed, both spouses must be able to hear eachother's complaints without defensiveness. Being defensive shows your spouse that you are only concerned with being vindicated.

When your trying to defend yourself, you are downplaying your partner's feelings.

If your partner is hurt, then the excuses for your actions are not important. Your partner needs to be able to vent his/her hurt feelings and feel respected.

To Express Positive Feelings Without Inhibition
In order to succeed in marriage, both spouses must be able to freely express positive feelings to each other.

To Listen to Positive Feelings Without Awkwardness
Some people can never accept a compliment. If someone tries to commend them, they change the subject, look away, blush, cough nervously or all of the above. You need to be able to accept a compliment from your spouse.

To Empathize with Your Spouse
Empathizing with your spouse demonstrates that you not only understand what your spouse is expressing to you, but that you also care about your spouse's feelings. Empathy does not mean that you agree with your spouse. It simply means understanding his/her viewpoint and acknowledging that it is valid to him/her. This can be a challenge, but you can improve your skills with practice.

All of this will take time and effort for both partners. But, stick with it. A healthy and happy marriage is definitely worth it.

If you simply can't communicate on any but a superficial level ("Pass the butter," "Looks like rain") in spite of determined efforts on your own, or if your are unable to achieve the kind of communication which satisfies your needs as a couple, it is essential to seek professional help with your communication blocks.

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