Talking About How You Talk
When I work with couples, one of the things I help them learn is how to talk about how they talk to each other. It may sound like a mouthful, but what it essentially means is talking about the way that you communicate, rather than solely focusing on the content of the discussion. This can be particularly helpful when it comes to fighting. Too often, couples get caught fighting about the same things, making the same arguments, and doing it in the exact same way. They get stuck on the content of their fight – “but it was YOUR turn to walk to dog!” – and completely lose sight of the way they are talking to each other. Going around in circles with the same content leads to a huge amount of frustration and irritation on both parties. If you’re a part of a couple now, or have ever been a part of one, I can practically guarantee that you can recall having at least one of these seemingly never-ending fights with your partner. It can start to feel like your conversations never get anywhere.
A great way to get out of these cycles and improve your communication is to start talking about your communication patterns. The first step is to identify some of your patterns. Think back to the last few difficult conversations or fights between you and your partner. What happened? Where did things go wrong? What parts of the conversation felt easier to you, and which parts felt harder? You may also want to consider the following questions:
- How easy is it for you to talk about your feelings?
- Do you tend to be loud or soft-spoken?
- What do you notice happening in your body during a fight? Do you clench your teeth? Feel butterflies in your stomach? Start sweating?
- Do you think you communicate better through words or actions?
- Do you ever lose your temper during a fight? What does that tend to look like for you?
- Do you or your partner ever call “time-outs” during fights?
- If your partner is emotionally charged, how do you tend to respond? Do you shrink away? Start yelling? Leave the room?
- How often do you feel defensive?
- Do you tend to initiate conversations about feelings, or does your partner?
- Do you typically feel like you are able to articulate how you feel, or do you find yourself struggling to find the right words?
The next step is to try to communicate your answers to these questions to your partner. I usually encourage couples to talk about their communication at a time when both parties are calm, and there isn’t a big fight or issue on the table. As you share some of the dynamics you have noticed, speak using “I” language. An example might be something along the lines of, “I’ve noticed that when you tell me you need some space, I tend to feel panicky and scared,” or, “When I know I’ve done something wrong, I have a hard time not feeling defensive.”
As you each share the things you’ve noticed, you can start taking a look at how your dynamics affect each other. For example, your partner may notice that she starts yelling when she feels that she is not being listened to, and you might notice that when you hear loud voices, you instantly tune out. Of course, these patterns are intimately intertwined. The goal during these conversations is to feel like you and your partner are a team, working together to find solutions to your issues, rather than two opponents battling it out. As you and your partner become more familiar with the dynamics that tend to crop up between the two of you, you can start anticipating these tricky spots before they become full-blown fights.
Need more guidance in determining your communication styles and tendencies? Call (415) 658-5738 or visit my Appointments page to schedule a consultation