“One thing seven years of marriage has taught Bob and me is how to draw blood,” Denise lamented to the counselor at their first session. “We seem to know just how and where to hurt each other, and every time we try to talk, we end up hurling insults and causing pain. It’s gotten so bad we just don’t talk anymore.”
Like millions of other couples, Denise and Bob believed the line, “love means you never have to say you’re sorry.” They don’t. Nor do they say, “I understand your point,” or “How can we work this out so that we can both be happy?” They can’t get to these effective steps because they become mired in their own anger and resentment.
Effective communication requires a willingness to listen to the other person’s point of view without getting defensive.
Another major component of effective communication is the intent and phrasing of the words. The speaker needs to make points clearly and succinctly without condemnations or accusations.
Bob and Denise, for example, know exactly what topics or words will inflame the other. By choosing to use this kind of ammunition, their intention is to wound or win, not to work towards a resolution. Too many times winning the point may mean losing the match.
Setting aside emotional responses for long enough to listen is essential. When spouses can accept that they are neither perfect nor expected to be, constructive criticism may no longer seem a personal affront – and relaxed listening can then replace defensiveness.
Bob and Denise rarely get to this point because they are side tracked by anger overriding logic and levelheadedness. If they could each learn not to reply with inflammatory remarks, tension would be greatly reduced.
Emotions are inescapably human and provide life both its zest and anguish. And emotions, even the so called negative ones, such as anger and resentment, are not inherently bad. It is the manner in which people express emotions that can be either creative or destructive, appropriate or inappropriate.
Effective communication is a learned skill. It is the pivot upon which all else in a marriage turns. Before talking leads to triggering, consider the Communication Guide below:
Listen without countering. Try to hear the other person’s point of view. Suspend your inner dialogue.
Stick to the subject. Make your point without digressing into attacks or accusations.
Look inward. What is the motive behind the words you choose to say? To defend, provoke or communicate?
Ask for behavioral change. Bring the conversation back to the everyday world. What will be different after this discussion?
Remember your partner’s trigger points. Then resist the temptation to use them.
Remember your own trigger points. Then resist the temptation to react to them.