communication skills

Avoiding Assumptions

In my 15 years of seeing individuals and couples in therapy, I've heard just about every version of argument there is. Whether it's a blowup that started with the laundry not being folded or a walk out due to a direct insult, I've heard it all. I've found there's a common theme in all of these miscommunications: assuming. Once we get comfortable with someone and have been with them long enough, we naturally tend to figure out some of their patterns of thinking, behavior, and communication. Although this can be helpful in meeting their needs and being more efficient, assuming can also be devastating to relationships. What if you're wrong and you didn't stop to check? Then you might be responding to or arguing with a point that the other person never even imagined.It's also important to remember that we all come into relationships and arguments pre-loaded with our own baggage and insecurities. This means you're not just making assumptions based on your observations of your partner, but you're also seeing everything through your own biased filter. Ever heard the phrase "you see what you want to see"? Basically if you're convinced there's a way your partner (or perhaps people in general) talk or behave toward you, then ironically this is what you're likely to experience, whether it's objectively occurring or not. For example, if you believe that no one could ever truly love you because you yourself don't believe you're truly worthy of being loved, then you'll consciously or subconsciously always be looking for signs that those around you do not in fact love you. Even if you see 10 signs of love for every 1 wrong, you'll focus on the wrongdoing and dismiss the love. See how this could be dangerous in combination with our natural tendency to assume?Luckily I've had 15 years and plenty of training on how to thwart these negative patterns! I have four quick (but not easy) steps to avoid falling into the assumption trap:1) Check assumptions - The moment you find yourself assuming your partner is saying something hurtful toward or negative about you, ask before attacking! It also helps if you do this in a curious way (What did you mean when you said X?) versus defensive (So you're saying that I'm an idiot?). What if they had a perfectly harmless thought and just expressed it poorly? Good thing you checked!2) Lead with feelings - This is by far the hardest step because it requires the toughest thing to do in this world - being vulnerable. Leading with how their comment made you feel is far "weaker" position than lashing out and hurting them back. However, I struggle to think of a time when attacking back has ever led to positive resolution. Instead use a feeling to describe your reaction to their comment. If your partner truly cares about you, sharing how you're hurt is far more likely to get a loving response.3) Address hurt feelings - If your partner has done step 2 and expressed hurt feelings the last thing you want to do is argue feelings with facts. The temptation is to try and convince them why they shouldn't feel hurt and why you're not a bad person/partner, but all that does is serve to invalidate their reactive feeling. Instead accept that this is how they feel and address that feeling.4) Meta-communicate - This is a fancy term for communicating about communicating (Did I just blow your mind?). In other words, talk about where the miscommunication occurred and how. Discuss how you could have gotten the same point across without hurting the other person's feelings. If the communication went poorly, talk about how you can better handle a similar miscommunication in the future without it leading to a fight.There are many other communication skills, but these 4 will have you well on your way to avoiding assumptions. For more help fine-tuning your relationship communication, please reach out to a couples therapist near you. They are an invaluable resource and are there to help strengthen your relationship both in quality and longevity.

Fighting Fairly

If you are a sibling, have had a good friend, or ever been in junior high, you know all about insults. You know when someone insults you, you insult them right back. And not just any insult. An insult against all insults. You try to one-up their insult. Then they try to respond with an even greater insult. Until someone throws a mom under the bus with, “Your mom!”The perpetual hamster wheel. It’s all fun in games until someone gets hurt. When we get older, it becomes your wife shutting down or your husband leaving. Insult wars start with words and actions that spiral out of control until homes are wrecked, marriages become irreparable, and lives are left devalued.Long before the above scenario occurs, little offenses might be taking place. Maybe it’s laundry not being put up or a spoon not placed in the dishwasher. These are such little things. However, as we know, those tiny little snowflakes can cause quite a disastrous avalanche. It’s not about socks and spoons. It’s about feeling respected and our time being valued. When we don’t voice what our needs are and push our feelings down by telling ourselves it may be easier to just ‘clean it up ourselves’, the real issue goes unheard and unaddressed.Tension and conflict are not the issue in the relationship. It’s how we deal with the conflict and treat one another during those tense times that leads to hurt and devaluing one another. Fighting fairly means we are able to have concern for our partner’s feelings as well as having awareness of our own behavior. It’s saying, “We’re on the same team.” “I love you.” “There’s something I’d like to talk about.” Choosing not to participate in criticism (“You never…”), contempt, defensiveness (“It’s not me, it’s you”), and avoidance can lead to repair and change.In order to be intentional in handling conflict, we need to cultivate: curiosity, compassion, and (self-) control. Providing empathy to our partner’s feelings in a respectful manner, without the harsh tones, can do wonders. Ask yourself, “Where is my ownership in this fight?”  It might be a good idea to take a break and come back to discuss the situation. Reiterate to your partner that you want to discuss the issue, but you need some time to think about your words and process before the discussion. This will ensure that the ‘problem’ isn’t being avoided and that you are working to come to a resolution.If you have found yourself in the perpetual hamster wheel, reach out for help. We are trained to help you to get off the endless cycle of unresolved conflict and provide the tools needed to help you fight fairly. Create the space needed in your relationship to have conflict without the pain attached to it. Adapted by: Dr. John Gottman’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and Dr. Daphne de Marneffe “Put Up a Healthy Fight”.

What are your habits? Part 2, Complaining vs Caring

Has someone ever asked you "how is it going" and your response was "I have no complaints"? More than likely you have either said it or heard someone say it. Sometimes my follow is "even if I complain, it will not resolve anything." The best part of the conversation is someone is caring for your well-being even in the briefest of moments. Part 2 of the habits series is exploring complaining (disconnecting habit) versus caring (connecting habit). Complaining is defined as "feeling dissatisfied or frustrated with someone or something and communicating those feelings". Complain comes from the Latin word "complangere" = com (very much) + plangere "to hit the chest." This habit can drive a wedge between individuals if the habit of caring is absent. Caring is defined as "having and communicating a genuine interest in another or concern for another." Care comes from the Old English "caru" = trouble. Caring about another's troubles takes a great deal of self-awareness and self-sacrifice. In your relationships, determine which of these habits dominates your interactions. Are you disconnecting or connecting? Which habit are you using? Until next time, everyone. Remember, the choice is yours.

What are you habits? Part 1, Supporting vs Criticizing

What comes to mind when you think of the word “habit”? Running? Reading? Whistling? Clinking your spoon on a coffee cup? (thank you I Love Lucy for those two examples). There are many habits we partake in, but the habits of this blog have to do with communication and relationships. Of these two habits, supportive and criticizing, which do you find yourself expressing more when having a discussion or disagreement with a spouse, family member, or friends? William Glasser tells us caring habits promote closeness while deadly habits promote separation. Through the next few blogs, I will be discussing the seven caring habits and the seven deadly habits of any relationship. When looking at your present and past relationships, think about some insights you have developed about yourself. For this week, begin acknowledging when you are using the caring habit SUPPORTIVE and when you are using the deadly habit CRITICISM. Remember to keep these in verb tense, supporting and criticizing, because you oversee your actions. Try utilizing a little more support when discussing something even in a disagreement. The choice is yours so make it a good one.

Constantly Arguing?

Resolving conflict in any relationship can be complicated and overwhelming, but the truth is all couples argue.  But, I am here to tell you it’s not a lack of arguing that makes a successful relationship.  It is more about how partners argue that plays an important role in long-term relationship success.  Learning the right tools to engage in effective communication and exercise healthy conflict resolution skills can serve as a great foundation for any relationship.From my experience, common barriers that block couples from exercising effective conflict resolution can include but are not limited to unwillingness to see your partner’s perspective, unwillingness to compromise, not actively listening, waiting to respond rather than listening to your partner’s point of view, and stonewalling.I believe outlining ground rules for any conversation, easy or difficult, can help to guide couples in working through conflict successfully.  Some of these rules include: 1) discussing one issue at a time; 2) taking turns; 3) no name calling; 4) no use of profanity; and 5) being specific and concise.  Seems easy enough right?  You’d be surprised as to how many couples struggle with rules of interaction and that’s where I come in.  It is possible, through practice and commitment, to attain the right skills for you and your partner to have long-term success.If you feel like there is room for growth in your conflict resolution skills, consider the following questions:

  • Do you feel like you and your partner are constantly arguing?
  • Do you feel like no matter how you try to resolve the issue, you and your partner constantly argue about the same issues?
  • Do you get called a nag for bringing up difficult issues?
  • Just feeling stuck?

If you are experiencing any of these issues, please contact me for a relationship tune-up!