By now you’ve probably seen Jason Headley’s parody on marital communication called, “It’s not about the nail.” [If not, let’s catch you up to speed…]
As comical as the sketch is, let’s be honest… there’s a lot of truth to it!
As a therapist who works with couples struggling to communicate, here are three recommendations for each partner in the relationship.
For the speaker:
- Request a specific time to talk
There’s nothing like trying to have a conversation when one or both parties are distracted by work, their phone, or a child. Instead, make important conversations a priority by intentionally setting aside time.
“Honey, do you have a minute later to talk about _____ after dinner? “
- Explicitly ask for what you need
Sometimes part of the problem is that we don’t know what we need. Stating this at the beginning of a conversation, or providing our partner with suggestions sets them up to succeed at meeting our needs in the conversation.
“Sweetheart, I’m really struggling with _____. Would you mind just listening for a minute.”
- Say what you mean, and mean what you say
Your partner is not a mind-reader. “But wait. If he/she really loves me, shouldn’t they just know to ______?” Maybe, but if they aren’t getting it by now and it’s creating a problem for you, it’s in your best interest to bring it up.For the listener:
- Actively listen
Be mindful of your body language. Do your best to help your partner know and feel that you are engaged in the conversation. As you listen, make sure your focus is on understanding your partners message, and not your response or rebuttal.
- Reflect back what you heard
Often, the process of just listening to your partner’s message/issue can lead to a resolution quicker than providing a solution. Reflecting back their message not only helps make sure you understand it correctly, but it also helps them know you get it, and feel understood.
“So if I understand you correctly, you feel ______. Did I get that right?”
- Empathize & Validate
This is crucial. The most effective communicators are able to empathize and validate their partner’s perspective, even when they disagree. Showing empathy and validating emotions is one of the quickest ways to diffuse an emotionally charged conversation.
“You know, I hate feeling criticized and attacked too. So when you tell me that that is how you feel, I can totally understand why you’re so upset.”In conclusion, it may or may not really be “about the nail,” but when it comes to relationships, there’s no question that improving your communication is the right choice, every time.