Think back to your typical communication? Are you able to communicate back and forth with your partner without yelling, without calling names, without shutting down AND without making them feel unsafe? If you answered NO to any of these, perhaps you have your answer (of why your partner won’t communicate with you). For someone to communicate to someone they love, they have to put their heart on their sleeve, so to speak. If there are memories of getting hurt and not feelings safe, usually people do not communicate effectively.
A few steps to jumpstart communication:
Step 1: Apologize for YOUR PART of past communication breakdowns. Even if they are the ones that start the fight, if you continued the fight, then you are partially to blame. If you had siblings in high school, you remember the back and forth “he started it” you had with your sibling as you tried to tell your parents whose fault the incident was. Remember what your parents told you? Usually parents will say something like “I don’t care who started it, YOU finished it”, or “I heard both of you arguing, I don’t care who started it”. It might help to take that same perspective in your apology. When you live together with someone for a long time, frustrations emerge. It doesn’t matter if that person is your parent, your sibling, or the person you are married to or dating.
Step 2: Establish rules of communicating. Everyone has certain things that trigger them. Triggers are things that set a person off or get them mad and are very personal; what angers one person, doesn’t necessarily anger another person. Talk about what the other person would need to create safety for them so that they might feel comfortable talking.
Step 3: Don’t judge their safety requests. If your partner says that they don’t like arguing before work, or during their favorite TV show, don’t make fun of them or judge them. They are telling you ways you can get the best response out of them. Just think, if you were deep into your favorite show, would you want to be interrupted over an issue you don’t think is important? Would you respond better at a time that worked for you?
Step 3: Honor their safety requests. If they ask for something from you to feel safe communicating (whether it is using a “safety word” or taking turns talking), Honor it! The first time you step on their requests, they will know that they are not safe and will shut off the communication again.
Step 4: LISTEN. Try not to come up with a rebuttal or defense when they are talking. Instead, listen to what they have to say. Ask them questions that are relevant to help you understand their perspective. You do not have to agree with their perspective to understand it. Most people understand that people have differences in opinion and just want to be HEARD. Sometimes, we are so concerned with a good come-back, we don’t even listen to what our partner said.
Step 5: Remember you are on the same team and probably have similar goals. Just because you have different paths to get to your goals, don’t mean that you don’t have the same end point. For example: You argue about how to handle getting the kids to listen. You think spanking is the answer. Your partner thinks time outs are the answer. Remember that you both want your kids to listen, THAT is your common goal. Remember that!
Step 6: If you continue to have problems communicating or get tripped up on any of the these steps, get professional help. Although these steps may seem simple, they are not easy. Having someone to be the translator of feelings between you and your partner may jumpstart effective communication. Communication problems are one of the most common things couples come in to therapy for. Of course, they tell me it is because they don’t have sex enough, they don’t feel close any more, they can’t stop arguing, or they have money issues…BUT, the main problem that I see is the breakdown in communication. Once they communicate better, they feel safe and want to be intimate and want to “fess up” about money. Most people who don’t feel safe don’t want to let their guard down enough to let someone in (who might have just yelled at them or called them a name the day before).
If you are looking for an individual therapist or couples therapist in Long Beach, please give me a call to ask me a question or to set up an appointment.