Is Your Communication Broken?
Updated: Jun 12, 2019
In my work with couples, I’ve found two interesting commonalities. Every couple I’ve seen sighted communication issues as the major concern. The other commonality I’ve seen is differing value systems. These two concerns in particular can destroy a relationship if not properly addressed. How do you address these issues? I’m glad you asked!
These two matters are actually intertwined. Let me explain. When two people come together from different backgrounds, they will inevitably have differing value systems, at least to some extent. Even if you have cultural, ethnic, and location in common, it’s safe to assume you did not grow up in the same household. And since every household is different, there will be at least some variants in your value systems. But more often than not, you and your partner will have vastly different values stemming from your childhood. Also, opposites attract. This isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself. But when you couple it with communication issues, you have a recipe for trouble. Maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let me back up and explain what value systems are and why they’re so important.
According to Z. Hereford, values are a set of principles or ideals that drive and/or guide your behavior, define your character, and drive your decision making. I tend to agree with that. Basically, your values have a profound effect on your behavior. If something doesn’t fit within my values, then I’m probably not going to do it. And if I do, I’m going to feel conflicted, uncomfortable, and maybe even anxious. So, let’s take this concept back to couples. Here you have two people, with different values, meaning different protocols for behavior. If I don’t understand that, then I won’t understand why my partner behaves the way they do and vice versa. How about an example:
Growing up, Dave was taught immediately after dinner, everyone puts their plate away and the dishes must be washed and put away before bed each night. Dave’s partner, Anna, on the other hand, grew up in a household were there wasn’t much pressure on when the dishes needed to be washed, as long as they didn’t sit too long. Well, when Dave and Anna come together as a couple, Anna probably isn’t going to feel as strongly as Dave does about having a clean sink before bed. Dave may find himself feeling annoyed at first, then frustrated that it seems he’s the only one to ever do the dishes. Finally, Dave starts to feel angry, notices he feels resentful in the evenings and that he’s snapping at Anna. Why? My guess would be Dave actually feels disrespected. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Shannon, how did you jump from the dishes not being washed to disrespect? That seems like a stretch!” But honestly, it’s not. See, respect is about treating others the way we want to be treated. So, for Dave who believes the dishes should be washed immediately wants Anna to display the same behavior. That’s respect. But Anna’s not doing that, which leads to Dave feeling disrespected. Someone once told me that you can’t get angry unless you feel a person or situation has violated your values. I don’t know if I’d go as far as say that’s the only path to anger, but it certainly is a very common one.
Now what about lack of communication? Well, if you’re unable to communication your values and feelings properly, your partner’s behavior isn’t going to change. And you’ll probably find yourself in an argument more often than not. Let’s look at Dave and Anna again.
Dave never explains to Anna that he always believed it was best to wash the dishes right away. Instead, maybe he makes a joke about the reversal of stereotypical gender roles, consciously, or more likely subconsciously, trying to modify Anna’s behavior. Well, it doesn’t work and over time Dave gets more and more frustrated and Anna, who found the joke funny the first time, now gets more and more annoyed each time Dave mentions it.
Annnndddd, cue the arguing! I’m sure you can see where this is going. The arguing doesn’t stop there. It snowballs into every aspect of their relationship and before they know it, they’re sitting on the couch in my office, unable to talk to each other without sarcasm or yelling, and playing the blame game. And that’s a game nobody can win. But don’t worry, here’s six tips to improve communication:
Actually communicate—I know this may seem obvious, but often I hear one or both partners say things like, “I didn’t bring it up because I didn’t feel like fighting”, or “I already knew what he/she would say”. You’d be surprised by how many of my clients apparently have psychic abilities and can see into the future! But seriously, the first step to better communication is to actually talk things out. If there is a behavior (or lack thereof) that your partner engages in that bothers you, tell them. How can you expect them to adjust if you never mention how you feel?
Timing is everything—If you and your partner are already in a *cough* intense discussion, now probably isn’t the time to bring up how annoyed you are that he leaves his socks on the floor. This also isn’t the time to mention something you’re excited about and want their support for. You’d be asking them to provide you with something they are not capable of doing at that time.
Adhere to fair fighting rules—If you want your partner to not only hear you, but to also listen, you have to play fair. That means no low blows, like saying things to intentionally hurt their feelings, or bringing up things that you previously forgave. It also means using “I” statements. This is a style of communication that focuses on the feelings or beliefs of the speaker rather than thoughts and characteristics that the speaker attributes to the listener. For example: “Lay off me!” turns into, “I feel frustrated and annoyed when I am reminded over and over to take out the trash. I am old enough to do this without reminders.” This way, the speaker owns their feelings and communicates their needs.
Hit the pause button—Remember how I stated there’s always a reason for behavior? And how couples often have differing value systems? Well, next time your partner does something that frustrates you, try hitting the pause button and think about the why behind the behavior. Are they stressed? Tired? Hungry? There’s a function. And if you can understand the “why” you will be better equipped to handle the situation.
Have the values discussion—Even if you’ve been together for years, if you’ve never sat down and had this discussion, I strongly encourage that you do. You’ll be surprised how our childhoods shape who we are as adults. And if you have children together, these things will shape the way you choose to raise them. If you and your partner have extremely different values, it can make deciding how to raise children difficult.
Get professional help—I realize this is easier said than done. This is a lot of information to sift through and a much longer post than I’d usually write. That’s because communication between couples is complicated. And if you’ve thrown the book at it and every convo still leads to a fight, it’s time to seek professional help from a neutral third party. Reach out to a therapist that specializes in couples counseling… wait, I’m one of those! …let me rephrase, reach out to me (if you’re in the area) and get scheduled. I can help you learn to like each other again.
So, there you have it! Values and communication skills are at the foundation of your relationship. Paying close attention to these two things will put you on track to a happier relationship. If you feel like your relationship could use some help, give me a call or drop me a line. I’m here to help you live your best life! How do you communicate best with your partner? Let me know in the comments below!
Would you like to work with me? Reach out via phone at 910-745-0303 or fill out the contact form on the website.
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