Repair your busted communication techniques with these 3 steps.
Do you ever try to talk to your partner about an important issue and suddenly the conversation derails? Your partner feels attacked and withdraws to his inner-cave (or even physically to another room). Meanwhile, you wind up feeling like someone stabbed you just for reaching out and trying to connect.
Effective communication (or as you likely call it—"Can we PLEASE just have one conversation without all of this drama!) is essential to healthy, loving relationships but is often hard to achieve. To help you get there, try using this 3-step formula that helps ensure your important, heartfelt conversations go well.
Step 1—Set the Stage For Connection
Before you can approach your partner, you must first get really clear about what's going on within you. Take a little time to clarify what you truly want to talk about so when you do connect with your partner, the conversation stays on track.
Next, wait until your partner is in a space where he can listen and respond with compassion. You invite disaster by starting an important conversation at the wrong time. Recognize when he is feeling tired, stressed, or needing alone time. Yes, I know ... this issue is weighing on you and likely causing you emotional discomfort, but ambushing him with the topic only sabotages your chances of actually being heard.
Don't assume that he's in a good space to talk. Actually ask him— "Is this a good time?" Use this question as a cue to one another that you're requesting time and focused attention to discuss something important. If this isn't a good time, request to talk at another time. Then, suggest and agree upon a time.
By setting the stage for a healthy conversation to occur, you free yourself up to take a risk and allow your partner to hear what is on your heart. After all, there is more to understand than just the surface issue, but also you want your partner's help and loving support discovering the real feelings and "why" underneath.
Step 2—Follow This Conversation Structure to Ensure You're Heard
So, now that the two of you agreed on a time to talk, set the actual conversation up for success by following this structure as you talk. It's not meant to limit what you say, but rather to create a healthy boundary for you to express the real heart of the issue. It's easy to spin off on tangents or complicate the matter unnecessarily. This conversation structure helps keep you both on track! Here is how the conversation structure works:
- To begin, request the kind of caring you'd like to receive, such as, "I want you to celebrate something with me," or, "I want to understand something that happened between us." This let's your partner know what's expected of him from the start.
- Then, describe the trigger that brought this "issue" or topic to mind. For instance, you might start with, "When I spoke with my boss this morning ..."
- Next, succinctly describe what happened: "My boss told me I'm in line for a promotion."
- Now name what meaning or assumption you gave to what happened. For example, "I felt excited by the idea of being eligible for a significant raise. But then I wondered if the requirements of the new position might exceed my skill set and that I might need to put in a lot of extra hours to succeed."
- Finally, clarify for your partner what the real issue is: "I know I can go for the training but I'm worried if rising into this new opportunity will put strain and pressure on our marriage."
Needless to say, the first few times you try using this specific structure, you may feel a little awkward. That's OK. Simply ask your partner to bear with it a few times until you get the hang of it. Soon this structure will flow naturally and the true point you're trying to communicate will come tripping easily off your tongue. By following this conversation structure, you make your feelings clear and set the stage for your partner to easily "get you."
Step 3—The Ideal Way for Your Spouse to Respond
Assuming he is in the good space you set up at the start of your conversation, your partner can now respond, show support with the following steps:
- Be affirming if appropriate. In this case, an enthusiastic "wow" shows great support (a promotion is exciting news!).
- Summarize what you just discussed: "So, your boss says you're in line for this promotion that will lead to a big raise, but you'll really have to carve out more time for work, and you're worried how that will affect our marriage."
- Validate the feeling being expressed: "Yes, I see why you're excited; this is a great opportunity to explore a hidden talent you're discovering. Getting that training would really help set you up for the future."
- Say something affirming about the person: "I admire how hard you work and I'm glad to see you get the recognition I know you deserve. Thank you for keeping our marriage in mind in all of this. I think with the kids going back to school, we can make more room for you to incorporate that education into our lives."
Moments of sharing like this will help you both feel closer. In this case, one of you gets on board with the other's dream. John and Julie Gottman, renowned marital researchers, underline how this builds a bond between couples in 7 Principles for Making Marriages Work.
Hopefully, as the two of you build this communication process, you'll develop the trust to reveal things you might feel fragile or even ashamed about. Take a leap of faith that your intimate partner will hold your vulnerability in the palm of his hand and look for its meaning with you. With practice you'll have faith that he wants to understand you and welcomes your words without judgment.
Feeling your beloved grasp what has happened, what it means to you, and why you feel this way—wanting to give you support—feels awesome. Conversations like this build a sense of security ... just one of the ways you build your relationship to last for a lifetime.