FINALLY Learn To Stop Fighting And Start Communicating

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Love, Heartbreak

Break down the communication barriers that are keeping you from your loved ones

Most of my work as a therapist is helping individuals, couples and families learn to have better communication. So much conflict comes out of poor communication.

I often see people not communicating with their words because they are making an assumption that the other party doesn't want to hear what they have to say, or is going to misunderstand, or will become angry and they don't wish to fight, or they think what they have to say is silly or somehow doesn't matter; the list goes on from there.

Communication is key in any kind of relationship. We have to learn how to tell people what we need, how we want to be treated, and possibly more importantly how we feel.

Ask yourself when was the last time you communicated your true feelings, with openness and complete transparency. This means you didn't filter what you had to say. You didn't hold back because you feared the other person wasn't capable of hearing you, you just spoke honestly and sincerely. 

For most people it has been a long time. Now ask yourself, how are people suppose to know what I need or how I feel about a situation, if I am not telling them? We are human, we can not read minds, and therefore everything must be communicated clearly and with purpose.

When working with a couple I first teach them I-statements. I-statements allow us to communicate our needs and feelings, without blaming the other person.

They also allow us to take responsibility and ownership of our feelings. In interpersonal communication, an I-message or I-statement is an assertion about the feelings, beliefs, values etc. of the person speaking, generally expressed as a sentence beginning with the word "I", and is contrasted with a "you-message" or "you-statement", which often begins with the word you.

I statements have three parts, the feeling, the behavior, and the why. State how you feel, about a specific behavior, and why or what it means to you.

You should state facts, rather than opinions. You should avoid over generalizations (always, never). Remember to be respectful and avoid unfounded accusations. Examples of I statements, "I feel rejected when I am not invited to the party, because I believe I am not good enough to be around your friends". Do not say: "You don't want to be with me, otherwise you would have taken me to the party."

"I feel disrespected when I see clothes on the floor because I work hard to make money to buy those clothes." Do not say, “You are so disrespectful always throwing your cloths on the floor, why do I even bother buying them for you”.

The second thing I do with clients is to teach them to use the I-statements in combination with reflective listening. Reflective listening is the process of reframing in the listeners own words, what they hear from the speaker.

The purpose of reflective listening is for the listener to truly hear and understand the speaker's perspective or message about a specific event. Reflective listening can be used in negotiations and to reach a compromise, but the main purpose is to understand each other's perspectives. Reflective listening always has a speaker and a listener.

The speaker needs to remember to keep the statement short and concrete, no more than 6 sentences. The listener needs to be able to listen to all of the statement, and be able to repeat or reflect all of what is said, if the speaker goes on a long rant, then the listener is going to stop listening, or in the very least the listener will only be able to recall the last part of what they heard.

The steps of reflective listening: 

1.  Speaker uses I-statements to discuss a specific topic, using 3-6 sentences.
2.  The listener then repeats what they heard, using some of the speakers words, and some of their own words. This is not a time to react, respond, or problem solve. You are only allowed to reflect what has been heard. 

3.  The speaker will give confirmation on what was heard, or if the listener didn’t hear the message as it was intended, then the speaker will restate the message, using slightly different words, continued with I statements.

Reflective listening is difficult at first, but with practice it can be mastered. I suggest couples practice reflective listening for at least 10 minutes a day.

Set aside at least 10 minutes, each day. Discuss things that are important to you. Remember the purpose is to understand each other's perspective, not problem solving or negotiation.

Because reflective listening requires so much thought, active listening, and a great deal of thought in order to form the I-statements, reflective listening allows us to slow down the conversation, and communicate clearly while decreasing the emotional side.

I feel it should go without saying that when we are fighting or discussing, we should be kind and fight fair. This means we should avoid name calling, threats (I'm leaving, I want a divorce, get out and never come back, this is over), placing blame, over generalized statements (always, never).

Avoid bringing up the past, avoid making up false complaints, and avoid keeping score of grievances and hurt feelings. It is a good idea to have a safe word, for ending the conversation when it gets over heated; as we are unable to hear and process information when we become angry. This should be thought of as a break (10-20 minutes), and not the end of the conversation, unless understanding of both parties perspective has been met.