Being able to express yourself clearly and being able to listen well can help you avoid a great deal of stress in your closest relationship. Unfortunately, we are more likely to communicate ineffectively with our partner just at the time when we most need to get our point across. In fact, communication itself often is a major source of difficulty.
When we feel pressured, we may not keep our partner up to date. Often we fail to listen properly because we are preoccupied. But effectively communicating our feelings and ideas can prevent unnecessary misunderstandings and tensions. It’s a good idea to try to open up channels of communication as much as possible. You might need to look actively for time to talk with your partner, such as during car trips or washing dishes.
Effective communication becomes even more crucial during high-stress times such as holidays. Little things can seem much bigger on important days which come with high expectations.
Make a conscious effort to practice the following basic communication skills:
- Listening. Effective listening requires concentration, tolerance and sensitivity. Concentration means focusing solely on what the speaker is saying. Tolerance involves keeping an open mind to what the other person is saying, rather than being judgmental or defensive. Sensitivity means taking on board the feelings being expressed as well as the words.
Under stress, you are less likely to listen well. It’s a good habit to ask your partner to repeat what he or she has said if you doubt that you fully understood. Being a good listener means you will be kept better informed.
- Expressing yourself. First you need to listen to yourself to know what you want to get across. If you feel confused, spend a few quiet moments going over your thoughts. Then you’ll be ready to state your message clearly, honestly and constructively.
Avoid negative generalizations about the other person. In arguments, attempt to stay on the topic which is the real problem and avoid generalizing, point-scoring and venting your anger just to calm yourself down. Positive resolutions won’t come from attacking.
Learn when to give feedback and how to say no to unreasonable demands.
- Interpreting body language. It’s inherently difficult to explain nonverbal communication in words. Yet it a central form of communication. It is possible to understand how the other person is receiving your message through clues in his or her movements. We pick up on these clues all the time without realizing it, but sometimes ignore the messages.
When you are talking, watch your partner for signs of understanding, distraction, confusion or boredom and adapt your behavior accordingly. Be aware of crossed arms and avoidance of eye contact. If this is happening, you might need to alter your approach.
- Being aware of your differences. Individuals’ perceptions of the same event or piece of information can vary a great deal. Different backgrounds lead to different expectations of the world, and we tend to hear what we expect to hear. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and gear your message specifically toward him or her. Make sure it has been received accurately by asking for feedback. Also remember that many words and concepts have different meanings and so they are often open to misinterpretation.
- Resolving conflict. Conflicts naturally will arise whenever people are living together. Conflicts can occur for many reasons including “black and white thinking,” clashing standards or beliefs, unresolved childhood issues, and the background stress of modern life.
Conflicts potentially can be useful and channeled in healthy ways as long as they don’t involve threats or stubbornness. They can stimulate discussion and even bring people in a relationship closer together, as long as each partner expresses his or her feelings and opinions in an honest and loving way.
Resolve conflicts by working together so that neither of you is forced to ‘give in’ or be dominated. Look for solutions that are acceptable to both, and keep working at it until you reach a satisfactory conclusion.