Do you keep making the same communication mistakes over and over in your relationship? Perhaps you’ve noticed some patterns where every time you try to talk to each other you end up in an argument or disagreement.
The fascinating thing about working with couples since 2003, is I’ve noticed many couples make the same communication errors all the time.
You’re not listening
Yep, you guessed it. The #1 communication mistake all couples make is they don’t listen and this leads to couple conflict.
I have an essential question for you to ask yourself the next time you’re listening to your partner:
“Are you truly listening, or are you just waiting to talk?”
When you’re listening to your partner, there’s probably a good chance a lot of the time you’re just formulating what to say next.
When you’re thinking about what to say instead of listening, it’s a big problem because you’re not present to what the speaker is saying. This means you’re not hearing the message being delivered – you’re part of a monologue instead of a dialogue.
Here are my 3 tips for how to improve your communication in your relationship:
1. Set the scene for listening
It’s essential that you create an environment for effective listening. I recommend you sit directly in front of your partner, look her in the eyes, and turn off any distractions so that you can focus completely on one another.
As you’re listening to your partner, you don’t need to respond. Just listen and focus on being completely present and engaged with her.
2. Validate, acknowledge, and empathise
Now you need to do something that’s more important than sharing your own view.
Begin to respond by validating, acknowledging and empathising.
- Validate: let your partner know what you are hearing. Affirm that you understand this is the way he sees things.
- Acknowledge: Reflect on what you’re hearing as a way of letting your partner feel acknowledged.
- Empathise: Use your skills of empathy to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and imagine what it feels like for her. You could simply say, “Oh, that sounds really awful. I’m so sorry to hear this.”
Focusing on validating and empathising will help your partner feel heard and understood.
3. Don’t solve problems or offer advice
If your partner comes to you to discuss an issue or is in distress, it can be very tempting to immediately provide solutions and give advice. It’s a natural human response to want to rescue someone who is in pain, especially someone you love.
Don’t do this. If you feel compelled to offer advice or solutions, then give your partner the option to say yes or no. You can say, “As I’m listening to you, I have some ideas and possible solutions that might be helpful for you. Would you like to hear them?”
This invitation gives your partner the opportunity to accept or decline so he can decide what would be most helpful at that moment.
If you focus on these three simple tips when you’re next communicating with your partner, your partner is more likely to feel heard, understood, and supported. And why wouldn’t you want that in any relationship?
Watch the video below of sex therapist Esther Perel speaking about which communication style intensifies conflict:
[00:00:05] Our conversations that will intensify conflict or the potential thereof and there are conversations that will intensify understanding potentially even resolution.
[00:00:20] Conversations that are sure to polarize in which for everything you say, I come back with what I have to say without ever taking into account what you just said. You know what happens when people disagree, they literally have the capacity to listen to 10 seconds of what the other side has to say. Ten seconds that’s three sentences. And by then they’re already are busy creating their rebuttal. They are no longer listening. They are just preparing their return, their retort.
[00:00:55] When you have that kind of conversation here is what happens. One is I am constantly just going to come back at you. I am not integrating what I heard from you. And it doesn’t influence anything of what I’m saying. So basically you’re saying the same thing over and over again and I’m saying the same thing over and over again. And those two never meet. And the more I say “Eeks” the more I make you say “why?” It’s me who is reinforcing you saying the fundamental thing with which you disagree.
[00:01:30] I come with expectations of what I think you think or may say or may want. All relationships are colored with expectations about myself and about the other. My expectations influence that which I didn’t see or hear. It is a filter as well as my mood is a filter.
[00:01:54] We in communication have the ability to set the other people up because we will draw from them the very things, which we expect from them even when it’s the opposite of what we really want. We create the others in relationships and in communication. It isn’t just that who they are and that’s who we are. That is one of the most important things to understand about relationships and communication is how people actually co-create each other in the context of a relationship and why we are not the same person with different people because those people make part of who we are.
[00:02:35] When we are in conflictual relationships, we will often be prone to negative attributions which is that when you speak to me a certain way it’s because you have a bad temper or you have a nasty personality. When I speak to you in a certain way it’s because I had a lot of traffic getting here this morning and because I’m having a bad day. You are a bad person. I have just bad circumstances. I essentialise as you and I contextualise me. All of these things will intensify conflict. It’s the opposite that will create the potential for understanding; is my ability to take in what you say; to mull it over, to include it in my response so that I make you feel that you matter. That’s what you say makes a difference. That it enters me that you’re not just talking to the wind. What is lacking is the ability to see that speaking is entirely dictated by the quality of the listening that is reflected back on us.
[00:03:42] If I am talking to someone who is on their phone I will be expressing myself and experiencing the communication completely different than if I am speaking to someone who is looking at me in the eyes, who is shaking their head, who says to me, “I get it. I understand.” Not necessarily I agree.
[00:04:03] So when you listen to me the first thing I need to know is that I have your attention. The second thing I need to know is that maybe you can acknowledge the validity of my point of view. That doesn’t mean you agree with my point of view but my point of view makes sense and potentially you may even empathise with my point of view. You can understand why I would think or feel or experience things the way I do. That reflecting back, acknowledging, validating, empathizing, that sequence is where the depth of communication takes place. Because ultimately, if I speak to you and in the end, I leave feeling even more alone. I am literally in an existential crisis. There is nothing worse than to be alone in the presence of another.
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Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.