Dane and I attended our 5th marriage counseling class today. The topic focused on communication intimacy as a couple and we have picked up quite a few things from this session.
Here are the 13 communication rules in a relationship we learned:
Remember you are an adult
Children demand their way or feel threatened. Throwing a tantrum or demanding to get our way leads to nowhere in a healthy relationship. It strains the other person and can also be abusive or manipulative at times. Adults negotiate by clearly communicating.
During the early days of our relationship, I used to say “let’s break up.” While I said it primarily because I didn’t want to burden Dane with my clinical depression episodes, it was never a good idea to throw such words so casually.
Ultimatums in a relationship should never be a bargaining item. Ultimatums are generally raised when all other attempts to mitigate an issue have been exhausted. And even then, it shouldn’t be used to manipulate someone into doing or not doing something in return.
Say what you really mean
There are times that I struggle with saying what I really mean because I’m afraid of how I might sound—overreacting, desperate, sensitive, and so on. But during the times that I did, there was never judgment from Dane. In fact, he appreciates that I can say what’s on my mind upfront so he doesn’t need to guess if I really mean it when I say one thing.
Communication is expressing ourselves while also understanding our partner. However, it won’t work effectively if one is not being completely honest. Never say yes when you mean no, have reservations, or don’t want to hurt the other’s feelings, and vice versa.
Own your feelings
Using I-statements begin with how you felt and not as an attack on the other person, just the behavior. It’s essentially speaking how you felt instead of focusing on what the other person did or didn’t do. For example, saying “I felt like I was being ignored” instead of “You ignored me.”
I-statements help you become more mindful in creating healthy communication in a relationship. It lets you talk about how something affected your feelings without implying that the fault is with the other person.
Avoid accusations and attack
You-statements are often implicit or explicit attacks that lead to defensiveness and provoke a counterattack. Similar to the example above, “you ignored me” sounds negative and accusatory, especially if the other person didn’t intentionally do so. Focusing on our feelings when communicating makes it easier to address an issue as partners, instead of me versus him.
Be clear and direct with wishes or requests
Don’t expect each other to mind-read so there’s no miscommunication.
Dane can actually be dense sometimes and couldn’t pick up obvious clues. The thing is, communication shouldn’t be about who can understand hints, it should be direct and clear conversations that leave no room for guessing games. In the end, we may end up disappointed if our partners didn’t pick up on what we were only indirectly saying.
This is one of the communication rules that I am still practicing because sometimes, it can be awkward to say what you want out loud.
Repeat the message you received
During discussions, it’s important to thoroughly understand what our partner says. To make sure that we got it right, repeating the message helps clarify any confusion.
Dane practices this a lot because sometimes he worries that the way he understood it may not be the same as what I meant. It also helps keep myself in check to make sure I articulate what I want to say in a way that it’s easy to comprehend.
When something isn’t clear, the best thing to do is to clarify. Assuming may lead to saying or doing the wrong thing which may become a problem later on.
In the words of my Anatomy professor in college, Sir Ariel Ponce, Assuming or ASS-U-ME makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”
Refuse to attack vulnerabilities
Using our partner’s weakness against them is solely an ill intention. Attacking our partner’s vulnerabilities causes hostile environments and doesn’t help resolve the problem at hand.
I have a very bad sense of direction. And for the same reason, Dane and I have taken the long way to places I was so sure I know. More than I am willing to admit. He never takes it against me, and we usually just laugh it off and think it’s simply spending more time with each other.
This communication tip in a relationship also applies to more sensitive topics, such as health, financial background, or past mistakes.
Don’t bring up past issues
Many people think that bringing up past issues will yield better results in present disagreements. But by doing so, it can quickly escalate an argument into a competition. Bringing up past issues into the present is not a constructive habit. It can be unhealthy because it burdens you with an additional emotional load, and is almost never useful for solving problems. At the end of the day, fixing issues is about finding a resolution that works for both people in a relationship, not who wins that fight.
Use time-out when needed
Time out is all about introspection or a breather to refocus the thoughts. It lets us avoid reacting in a destructive way and seeks to understand and resolve the problem.
I have a sharp tongue, so I use time-out as a first step whenever I am upset or pissed off.
Dane usually time-outs by watching YouTube videos to calm himself, while I usually write down my feelings as an outlet for my annoyance. Once we’re able to regroup our thoughts, we have a healthy discussion on what happened, how we felt, and what we can do next time. So far this has been a great communication rule in our relationship as it lets us collect our thoughts before saying something that we may not be able to take back.
Don’t use the silent treatment
Contrary to time-out, silent treatment aims to punish and torment instead of resolution and growth.
Dane and I are both guilty of this as there were moments when we take a long time before we can reset our system from sulking and being annoyed to problem-solving mode. The main intention was for the other person to reflect on their actions and feel the way we felt. But of course, doing so may lead to resentment and prolongs an issue that may have been fixed earlier. This is one of the things we’re working on as a couple.
Make resolution a priority
Dane and I try our best to make a resolution a priority whenever we have a disagreement. If one of us feels strongly about an issue, we share how we feel using I-statements and become clear and direct with what we want. I remember asking Dane to simply go to sleep when he’s sleepy, instead of accidentally falling asleep while we’re on a call, which has happened several times that it was annoying.
The point of conflict resolution is to address issues and move on. The clearer and earlier a resolution is made, the stronger the reconciliation.
A healthy relationship is aware of its gaps and aims to address them in a way that is fair for the involved parties. Dane and I still have a lot of improvements to implement in the way we communicate in our relationship, and these tips are a good guidance to keep us in the right direction so it helps us grow as a couple.
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