Dr. Cross’ Important Communication Tips
Based on what we know from Part I and Part II of this series, here are some tips to help improve your communication and closeness.
- If you are a withdrawer, do what you can to engage in discussion with you partner. When you feel like running away (either physically or emotionally), muster whatever strength you can to STAY WITH your partner and tell him or her how you are feeling. Say, “I really feel like running away right now (or I’m scared, or I’m not sure how to do this but here goes,…), but I know this is important for both of us that we talk so I will try my best.” Remember, the pursuer needs to know that you have a pulse!! They feel like they’re pulling teeth to get you to talk and the less you talk the more they pursue. So talk to them and you’ll see that they will feel less need to pursue!!
- If you are a pursuer, don’t criticize or belittle your partner or his/her feelings. Remember how difficult it is for you to stop pursuing and think about that when you are in conflict!!! When you belittle his or her feelings, you are belittling the person! When you feel like criticizing or blaming, STOP!!! This is EXACTLY the thing your partner expects and is EXACTLY the thing that will get them to clam up again!! So if you want them to talk, YOU HAVE TO LISTEN,…REALLY LISTEN TO THEM!! When you want to talk and you feel like criticizing, say, “I have something I would like to talk with you about and I would really like your feedback. I know it’s not easy for you when I do this, but I’ll try not to blame or criticize you because I want to hear what you have to say and I know blaming you will turn you off.”
- If your partner is talking to you and you don’t understand what he/she are trying to say, TELL HIM OR HER!! Ask for clarification, simply say, “Honey, I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying, it’s important to both of us that I understand what you are talking about, can you help me a little?” Asking for help shows you care!!!!
- Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, imagine what it would feel like for them and VALIDATE, VALIDATE, VALIDATE!!!! Use phrases like, “If I were in your shoes I would feel sad too,” or “I can see why you are angry, I would be angry if someone did that to me.” Avoid phrases like, “It will be ok” or “Things will get better.” Unfortunately this invalidates the person’s experience and feelings. Also, DON’T try to solve the problem, often we just need a caring ear to talk with!!
- If you don’t feel like your partner really truly heard (REALLY heard) what you were trying to say, it’s ok to say, “I’m not sure I conveyed my point, can I try again?,” or “This is really important that I convey my feelings accurately, can I clarify something?” Remember, if you say, “You don’t understand what I’m trying to say,” you might get a defensive reaction, so try to use “I” messages instead.
- Other things you can do to help the conversation go well:
- Look at your partner when he or she is talking. THIS TELLS YOUR PARTNER THAT YOU ARE REALLY LISTENING!!
- Touch your partner. Put your hand on their shoulder, hold their hand, or just touch their knee. THIS ALSO TELLS YOUR PARTNER THAT YOU REALLY CARE, EVEN IF YOU ARE ARGUING!!!!
- Whatever you do, ACKNOWLEDGE when your partner takes a risk to do something different!!! Tell your partner, “I can see that this is REALLY difficult for you to do and I appreciate that you trust me enough to take that risk.”
Remember, you don’t always have to agree,…in fact you can agree to disagree too!! Even couples who have been in happy marriages for years still have problems that may never get fixed!!