Read an Excerpt
20 Communication Tips for Couples
A 30-Minute Guide to a Better Relationship
By Doyle Barnett
New World LibraryCopyright © 1995 Doyle Barnett
All rights reserved.
Put your friendship first — even before your love relationship.
Friends usually put each other first, while those who have become lovers without developing a true friendship often put themselves or the relationship first. Often, people get so involved in their relationship that they forget to care about their mate as an individual. They are so concerned about getting what they want or need that they no longer care about their partner's needs. They play the game of love, with their lover as their opponent. They compete to get their own needs met, believing that if they do, the relationship will work.
Those who put their friendship with each other first can create fulfilling relationships. This doesn't mean putting your partner's needs as an individual before your own; it does mean putting your partner's needs as an individual before the needs of the relationship. Friends not only love each other, but genuinely like and accept one another just as they are. Lovers, on the other hand, often want to change or improve each other to fit their own needs.
Couples that are true friends stay friends even if they split up. They acknowledge they can't be a couple, but they still care about and enjoy each other's company. They want each other to be in a fulfilling relationship. Those who were just lovers can be possessive and jealous of their ex-partner's new love and happiness.
When you have a friendship, instead of going to your other friends for help or advice about what you should do in your relationship, you and your mate can work together as friends, turning to each other for advice about what you should do in your relationship.
For example, if you and a good friend are working together on a project and have a disagreement about it, you wouldn't let that disagreement come between you. Instead, you would work together as a team to find a solution — the problem is outside of your friendship and can't affect it.
Don't let your relationship as lovers put a wedge between the two of you as friends.
The fire of true friendship remains long after the spark of romantic love.CHAPTER 2
Don't bring up important issues during rushed or stressful times of the day.
It is a good practice to voice feelings as soon as they occur; however, if you have an emotionally charged issue to discuss, it is best to wait until you both have the time to sit and talk things through. Bringing up issues during inopportune times can be perceived as nagging. Don't nag! It only irritates.
Avoid emotional issues when you are tired and during stressful or rushed times, such as before work, right after work, or during any other period or in any location where you won't have enough time or privacy to give your full attention and fully discuss the issue.
Before talking to your partner, ask whether he or she is in a listening or talking mood. If your partner is not, try to set a better time when you will both be in the mood for discussion.
If you find that you and your partner have any past issues that you haven't dealt with, then you most likely have some damaging feelings such as resentment, anger, or defensiveness stored up. These dark feelings are guaranteed to continue to undermine your relationship, and will not go away until you choose to deal with them. Your first priority must be to find working solutions for every one of those issues, solutions that both of you feel good about, without any trace of hard feelings such as anger or resentment.
As problems arise between the two of you, either discuss and resolve the problems as they arise, or make some form of temporary agreement until a permanent agreement can be reached. If you can't come up with a solution, then get professional help, but don't ignore the problem.
When you ignore a problem, negative feelings tend to increase and eventually overshadow your positive feelings until, at some point, you look back and recognize only a long, overwhelming list of what doesn't work between you. All too often this results in the end of a relationship that might otherwise have worked if problems had been dealt with as they arose.
Unresolved problems grow and are fertilized by time.CHAPTER 3
Don't confront your mate with a "pre-set" judgment that he or she is wrong or at fault.
If you confront your partner because you think he or she is wrong or at fault, and you happen to be mistaken, then you both are going to bear the extra burden of overcoming your pre-set judgment in order for the truth to be known.
Even if there is only a small chance that you're wrong about your partner being at fault, it will be harder for the truth to be seen if your opinions are already set. Also, putting your partner on the defensive is not conducive to smooth, open communication.
Instead, when you see or feel a problem, initiate the conversation with "I" statements.
Some examples of "I" statements are:
"I don't understand this situation."
"I need your help to figure this out."
"I have a problem with what you said."
These are ways of putting any initial blame on yourself — thus helping your partner to be less defensive and more willing to work on the problem.
Use your mate as a sounding board, not a dart board!CHAPTER 4
First know what you do want.
Often people "nag" about what they don't like or don't want, and yet they fail to tell their mate what they do want. Before you confront your partner with a complaint, get as clear as possible about what you do want in the situation — and specifically what you want from your partner. This way, if you get what you ask for, you can acknowledge it fully, drop the subject, and move on to the next moment.
In the heat of an argument we often get so much momentum built up that we have a tendency to keep arguing, even though we got what we initially asked for or wanted. So, be clear ahead of time as to what you want to get from the conversation, and if you do get it, acknowledge your mate with appreciation and don't keep asking for more.
When talking to your mate, keep in mind whether you want your mate to advise you, to fix it, to help you work it out, or to just listen to you. Then, explain what you want from your partner — don't expect him or her to guess.
Often people start arguments because they are seeking attention, intimacy, or drama and passion. If this is your tendency, find other, more productive ways to connect with your mate.
Don't use arguments and drama as a means to connect or get attention.CHAPTER 5
Focus first on the person with the concern.
When our partner accuses us of something, often we automatically want to explain our side of it — how we see it. Even though this seems like a reasonable response, it is actually a defense and often unnecessary and counterproductive. When your partner confronts you on an issue, keep your focus on your partner and your partner's feelings. Treat your defense as a separate issue.
Ask questions and get as clear as you can about what is really going on with your mate. Often you will find that the problem is not yours, and you both can completely resolve it without shifting the focus to talk about yourself or whether you are responsible for your mate's problem.
Defensiveness arises from insecurity, and distracts us from the real issue.CHAPTER 6
Address only one issue at a time.
During an argument, people often take and defend a position at all costs. They have a need to be right, and to help support their argument, they bring up issues from past times when they thought the other was wrong. This only adds to the complexity of the disagreement and makes it harder to reach an agreement.
Unless your intentions are to sit down and list all your issues so you can deal with them one by one, it is best to stick to the present issue and resolve it first, before you bring up any other issues.
Valid points will stand on their own.CHAPTER 7
Say precisely what you mean.
We often use generalities when we speak. Although our statements are clear to us, listeners may interpret something quite different. If you want to make an important point, take the time to say precisely what you mean.
Try to be specific and try to frame your statements and questions in a way that doesn't imply pre-set judgment of your partner's feelings or actions. As an example, suppose your partner is unusually quiet, and you think it's because he or she is angry at you. It is far better to ask "Are you angry with me?" than to ask "What are you angry about?" Note the important difference between these two questions. The first question — "Are you angry with me?" — leaves room in your own mind for change, just in case you are mistaken about your partner's feelings. The second question — "What are you angry about?" — implies that you have already decided how your partner feels. Whether you are right or wrong, your partner will probably resent the question.
Another example of being more precise is learning to distinguish between "feeling words" and "non-feeling words." Feeling words describe emotions. Instead of saying, "I feel like you don't listen" — stop! "Like you don't listen" is not an emotion. You can't feel it. What you do feel is hurt, anger, joy, etc. You can truthfully say "I think you don't listen," but not "I feel you don't." Only use the word feel when you couple it with an emotional word: "I feel angry when I am accused."
Speaking more precisely is one way to develop the habit of thinking more precisely before speaking. This allows you to become clearer about what your thoughts and feelings are, and what you wish to say.
Precise speech requires specific thought, which gives us more distinctions, hence more choices and more opportunities.CHAPTER 8
Practice active listening.
Along with speaking more articulately, practice listening more attentively. Try to be aware of distinctions in your partner's speech. If your mate says "My first impression of you was that you were immature," listen precisely to what they say; do not jump to conclusions and get defensive. They did not say that they think you are immature, but that their first impression of you was that you were immature. There is an important distinction between these two statements.
If you are discussing an important issue, try parroting or repeating what you heard back to your partner. If you question the validity of the statement, then repeat it back to them verbatim, just to check what you heard. This may feel awkward or contrived at first, but with practice it can greatly help to keep communication clear.
Sometimes when people hear their own words spoken back to them, it helps them realize that what they said is not what they meant to say.
If, however, your mate seems clear about what they meant to say, then you can paraphrase, or repeat back to your partner in your own words what you heard them say. This way you both know you're clear on what has been communicated.
Often all a person wants is simply to know he or she has been heard or understood.CHAPTER 9
Use "I" instead of "you" statements.
One of the most common causes of arguments is the "Blame Game" — blaming others or situations for how we feel instead of taking responsibility for our own emotions. Remember, it's not the situation or another's words or actions that cause our pain or anger, it's the meanings and judgments that we assign to others' behavior that causes our pain. People cannot cause emotions in other people, but they can say or do things that trigger negative thoughts, which in turn cause these emotions. You may be late due to your partner's forgetfulness, for example, but the anger you feel is your own doing, not theirs. If you were a patient person or if you weren't stressed out, their tardiness wouldn't have triggered your anger in the first place.
Learn to recognize the internal causes of your emotions, accept responsibility for them, and then stop blaming others for how you feel. You can retrain your patterns of blame by learning to use "I" statements. "I" statements have three possible parts: They state what's happening, how you are feeling, and/or why you feel that way. Here's an example that includes all three parts: "When you are late, I feel angry because I'm too embarrassed to show up last."
In "I" statements, always follow the word because with the word I. If because is followed by the word you, then it becomes a blaming "you" statement: "When you are late, I feel angry because you are always inconsiderate." When your mate hears "you" statements, he or she may feel accused and become defensive. This makes communication more difficult.
"YOU" STATEMENTS vs. "I" STATEMENTS
"You upset me."
"I feel upset."
"You're always late." "I don't like waiting."
"You're a slob."
"I don't like picking up after you."
No one but yourself is responsible for how you feel.CHAPTER 10
Make requests, not demands.
A true request asks for something with the understanding that any answer, including refusal, will be acceptable. A demand asks for something, expecting it to be given.
A demand is usually easy to recognize, because if you don't grant it, you'll be punished in some way. "Punishment" may take the form of a remark, a gesture, or even a subtle reaction, like silence or just turning away.
Our lives become much easier when we are able to make requests of those we love, rather than demands.
True requests obligate no one.CHAPTER 11
Reply to, rather than react to, your partner.
Because "reacting" is such a common cause of miscommunication and misunderstanding, this is one of the most important tips in this book.
Reacting is nonverbal; it is an indirect attempt to show someone how you think or feel. On the other hand, "replying" means verbalizing or stating directly to your partner your thoughts and feelings. Reacting is doing something in response to what your partner says or does, instead of simply talking to them about it.
When you react or change the course of your actions because of something your partner says or does, you are no longer living your life according to your own design. Instead, you are letting another's words or actions control, or at least influence, your behavior.
If your partner does or says something that causes you to create feelings you don't approve of and you, in turn, judge yourself as being wrong for having those feelings, you may try to keep those feelings hidden. What always comes out, in one way or another, is your reaction. Your mate won't know what, if anything, they did wrong, so they end up playing a guessing game, trying to guess why you are behaving the way you are. If they guess wrong or react, rather than asking you directly what's going on, then you both end up guessing. All this guessing causes miscommunication, and it becomes even more difficult to understand each other.
Instead of automatically reacting to what your mate said or did, first talk to them about it and decide if your reactions are appropriate.
When you react to your mate and they react to your reaction, you both lose touch with your initial intentions.CHAPTER 12
Emotions are never wrong — it is how you react to them that causes conflict.
We often hesitate to talk to our partner because we don't like what we're feeling or because we think we're wrong for having those feelings.
Remember, though, that emotions are neither right nor wrong — they just are. It is usually how we choose to react or respond to them that creates conflict.
We often feel emotions we don't have words for. This can be confusing. Having a larger "emotional vocabulary" helps us make more distinctions and define our emotions better, which in turn offers more choices and more opportunities for effective communication. Remember, emotions don't judge.
One example of expanding your emotional vocabulary is to look beneath what you think is anger. You may find all sorts of feelings that might be better described as fear or hurt.
Excerpted from 20 Communication Tips for Couples by Doyle Barnett. Copyright © 1995 Doyle Barnett. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.