Getting Closure with Effective Communication: Where Many Couples Get Stuck.
While couples seek help for a variety of reasons, a common theme during initial therapy sessions is a difference in styles of communication. This difference often shows up as a frustrated, heated debate.
Hopefully, this is one of the areas that people seeking help are willing to look at and work on. Some couples may already possess the necessary skills to get “closure” on topics of discussion. There are times in every relationship when people feel that they are not communicating effectively with one another; they are not being heard and/or not being understood. Attempts at communication become a battleground in which couples are stuck in a routine in the realm of “right vs. wrong.”
The most obvious example is when couples are quarreling or fighting far too often. A less obvious—though equally common—example of ineffective communication occurs when both partners feel misunderstood, unappreciated, disregarded, or disrespected.
Effective communication and listening skills are crucial to overcoming barriers to closure. Additionally, accepting each other’s views and experiences is critical to moving forward. While this is not an easy task, having the skills to do so can make it a common practice in the relationship.
Being deficient in even one of the following skills can significantly limit growth and achievement in a relationship. Being deficient in more than one of the following skills can put any relationship at risk.
1. Express unwanted/undesirable feelings effectively.
These are feelings of frustration, anger, hurt, irritation, disappointment, dismissal, discounting, or even betrayal. It can be a struggle for the listener to be still and listen closely to what is being shared, as the tendency is to defend oneself and listen for the sole purpose of stating one’s own side of the argument.
2. Own your feelings.
Taking responsibility for how you see things and how you feel is a strength, not a flaw. It is not uncommon that both persons share some responsibility in getting stuck. So, look for and admit what is yours. It can diffuse the situation and well as set a good example.
3. Begin your statements with “I” instead of “you.”
Make statements like, “I feel frustrated when _______ happens.” When we begin our part of the conversation with or add “You always” or “You never” to the conversation, we run a strong risk of creating blame and defensiveness from our partner.
4. Make a request for change.
When there is a behavior or an experience that you want to curb, try using the format, “I feel____________ when_______________, and I would appreciate it if __________________.” State your feeling(s), the situation or circumstance, and what the change is that you are requesting.
5. If possible, try to find a resolution that both sides can support.
Instead of getting caught up in trying to “win” or be “right,” try to compromise or find a new solution that meets both of your needs. Being “right” really has little value in trying to communicate effectively; it can impair the goal of being heard and understood.
6. Take a time-out.
Sometimes conversations become heated and you reach a point where you become stuck. If you feel you or your partner is returning to some old ways of communicating, it’s ok to take a break. Try to set some time to come together and seek closure later: the sooner the better. Taking time to cool off can be a good thing, as long as you can return to try to establish closure.
7. Don’t give up!
Like everything else in life, learning how to communicate effectively takes practice. The more you practice, the better you get. Support each other in the goal of becoming more effective in how the two of you communicate.
8. Make the goal of being heard and understood.
This is crucial in relationship harmony. Being right is overrated, and remember: Someone always has to be wrong in the “right vs. wrong” dynamic. Think of someone whom you might likely call when you want to be heard and understood, not someone who is going to tell you what to do or pony up advice throughout the conversation. Become that person, the one who listens closely for the purpose of understanding. See if the two of you can establish a common interest and goal of being heard and understood. These are often what most people are searching for when they are seeking help.
9. Learn to accept and respect each other’s differences in views and experiences.
This takes some work. But if you share this as a common goal, you can support each other’s efforts throughout the development of effective communication skills. This is where other solutions and compromises may be necessary so that you don’t get stuck in the “right or wrong” way to view the path you are both on. Remember to listen with great intention. Stray away from listening while preparing your line of defense. The two styles of listening won’t coexist with a healthy outcome.
10. Seek help.
If you find that you are both still entrenched in unhealthy patterns of communication with one another, seek professional help. Having an unbiased professional with the two of you, advocating for both of you and helping each of you move forward in establishing closure on old and new issues, may be long overdue. You both deserve more peace of mind.