You have a choice every time you say something to someone. By your choice of words, your tone of voice and your body language, you nurture or weaken a relationship.
Now I know a few people who will take this as bad news. “Are you suggesting that I have to watch what I say to people — even at home? I can’t just say what I think? You’ve got to be kidding.”
No, I’m not kidding. And I’m not suggesting that you need to be obsessive about monitoring your conversations. But, I’m still sticking to my point: how you communicate matters — a lot. Let’s look at an example.
She: What’s wrong? I know something’s bothering you. Why can’t you just talk about it? (angry tone of voice)
He: Nothing’s bothering me! Leave me alone! I just want some peace and quiet when I’m home. Is that too much to ask?
She: There you go again — slamming the door in my face. Leaving me out in the cold. (shaking her head in disdain) I’m sick of it.
He: (Silence. Checks his phone. More silence.)
She: What kind of a marriage is this? You don’t share anything with me. I don’t know what’s going on with you. And I don’t think you give a damn about me either. I’ve had it! (she yells, as she runs out of the room, slamming the door)
You can see where this “conversation” is headed. Batten down the hatches!
Now let’s imagine that she starts off with the same complaint, but because each person speaks respectfully, they end up in a very different place.
She: What’s wrong? I know something’s bothering you. I wish you could share it with me.
He: Nothing’s bothering me! I just had a stressful day and want time to relax. Would you just let me be for a while?
She: Okay. I can see something’s bothering you. If you need to retreat to your man cave, go. However, when you’re finished hibernating — which I hope will be soon — don’t forget — I’m here to listen.
He: I know, but I’m not like you. I don’t always want to yakety-yak about stuff.
She: Yeah, I know. You’re a quiet guy. But I need something more from you. It makes me feel so alone, left out and distant from you, when you don’t talk to me. You know, you don’t have to be such a loner and deal with everything by yourself.
He: Okay, I hear you. But right now, I’m zonked. Let me be and we’ll talk later after the kids are asleep.
She: Is that a promise?
He: Yes, it’s a promise.
What this couple did to de-escalate the conflict instead of escalating it, is that they used communication skills that truly make a difference. And in so doing, they made magic!
Now, I am one magician who takes pride in telling her secrets. So, here’s what those magical communication skills are:
- They stated their own needs without attacking their spouse.
- They listened respectfully to what their partner wanted.
- They asked respectfully for what they wanted.
- They didn’t use accusatory, nasty words.
- They didn’t catastrophize the conflict nor bring up past conflicts.
- They kept their voices light, even injecting some humor.
- They tabled the conflict until they could find a better time to deal with it.
- They respected differences in personality style and didn’t insist that “their way was the “right” way.
- They avoided playing the blame game.
Now it’s time for you to utilize these skills. Not an easy task. It takes skill to develop the ability to step back, take notice of your thoughts and feelings, view the bigger picture and make a decision about how you wish to communicate your concerns.
Relationships thrive or fail based upon what you say and how you say it. It’s never too late to learn more effective ways to communicate.