As psychotherapists, my husband, Bill, and I often worked as a team, meeting with couples who were struggling with their relationships. Though a variety of issues were always on the table at these sessions, good communication was usually an essential piece … initially an essential missing piece.
Poor communication is typically one of the contributing factors to relationships issues. Partners and others often focus on each other’s issues as they see them, instead of examining their own roles in the problems they are having. So we helped clients learn how to look at themselves and see how each of them were contributing to the concerns they had. It was no longer about the other person and this helped lessen the need to be defensive, feel blamed or misunderstood.
Along with growing in awareness of their own behaviors and feelings was a need to learn how to express themselves to the other person.
A few years after Bill retired, he was showing signs of early Alzheimer’s. He and I talked often about the art he wanted to create and about the book he was planning to write. He had most of an outline done but we soon knew it would be impossible for him to complete it. The focus was on the tone of our voices and how that affects communication. After many years of working with couples, we were witness to how people would say what they felt. We watched as couples learned that they could say almost anything to each other depending on how they said it. We would work with them on changing the inflections, volume, warmth, expression and more.
We did this as a couple also. When Bill or I wanted to share with each other, Bill would often begin to share his feelings by lightly touching my hand or arm. That not only connected us but it softened our approach to each other. After all, we were problem solving because we loved each other even in those rare moments when one of us was upset with the other. The love was there and we drew on that — not always perfectly, mind you — perfect does not exist. But far more often than not, our tones played a huge role in how we ultimately felt heard and understood. It drew us closer.
Another piece of good communication is silence. There are times when people are dealing with something difficult and choose to just sit with each other holding space or listen silently with full attention. Waiting for your turn to talk disallows one from stepping into the other’s feelings and thoughts.
Why not take a look at how you communicate with your partner, your child, your boss or friend? What tone do you use? Do you talk with “you” messages instead of “I” messages? How is eye contact? Do you take risks and allow yourself to be vulnerable? Do you attack or blame? These can make all the difference in each person being heard … something we all desire.
Living well means communicating well.
Mary Friedel-Hunt MA LCSW is a clinical social worker, thanotologist and certified bereavement counselor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; P.O. Box 1036, Spring Green, WI 53588; or www.PersonalGrowthandGriefSupportCenter.com.