By Lucia Hu
Canadian Certified Counselor
Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist
with Ronni Rowland, Writer
You never listen to me!
Last year you promised me you’d travel less, but it’s not true!
That was a stupid thing to do!
Let’s face it. We’ve all said things to our partners that we regret when we’re tired, stressed, or just need a little time and space to decompress. In Shanghai especially, with its fast-pace and high-stress lifestyle, the “right time” for communicating sometimes doesn’t arrive.
Marriage takes mindful work. Focus on one aspect of communication you’d like to improve, and look inward. Examine your role in the relationship and identify ways you can change yourself. Take one step at a time, and start by only committing to one action. Then do it!
Each of us have our own challenges when it comes to communicating. Some of us are “avoiders” and may automatically shut down or need extra processing time when angered or hurt. Others may be more of the “pursuer” type who talk openly and desire immediate resolution. Yet often, both parties may not really hear what our partner is trying to say or recognize when we’ve crossed the line with our words or actions.
Here are 5 helpful strategies for positive communication:
1. Set a goal.
If you have difficulty finding time or energy to address issues in the relationship, first decide whether an issue is serious enough to warrant a possible tense or confrontational conversation. Then decide what possible solutions or compromise would you be willing to settle for after your ideal desired outcome.
2. Find the time.
Ask your partner, “What’s a good time to talk?” Whether it’s a mealtime, before bed, or during an activity, select an appropriate time for discussing issues or “trigger topics” with your partner. Be mindful of talking about potentially confrontational topics in front of your children, by considering what you would like your children to learn or the message you may be sending.
3. Set a time limit.
Depending on the complexity of the issue, set expectations by asking whether your partner could talk over an issue with you for X amount of time (even as short as 15 minutes). A set time is easier to agree to and can be scheduled into a busy calendar.
4. Be solution-oriented.
Stay on the current topic without mixing in past issues. Instead of communicating in a confrontational, accusatory style, use language that expresses your own experience and focus on finding a solution moving forward. Ask questions like, “What can I do or say next time to be more supportive?” or “What would help remind you next time?”
5. Plan an exit strategy.
Sometimes your best intentions and most careful planning don’t result in positive communication. When things get too tense, have an “exit strategy” ready so you can stop the negativity and start over later or the next day. Suggest a way to cool down or strike a compromise.
Implementing these tips for positive communication can greatly improve your relationship. However, some situations, such as addiction or healing from past hurts, will benefit from professional insights and support from a professional marriage and family therapist. If you would like more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!