5 Principles To Communicating Respectfully
Communication is often rated one of the top causes of divorce. Why? Communication is involved in everything we do in our relationships. One quote I love says, “Communication to a relationship is like oxygen, without it…it dies.” We communicate at every given moment, whether we open our mouths or not. We communicate through our facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, attitudes, comments, disagreements or agreements. Without being conscious about how complex communication can be, we often find ourselves 10 feet deep in conflict with our partners.
Resolving conflicts is one of the hardest tasks for couples to navigate. Many times, it is because you do not have the skills to help you through such highly charged interactions. Have you ever asked a question to your partner and they took it totally different than what you meant? Do you find yourself not being able to express what you really want to express and you both end up hurting each other with your words? You end up tearing each other down causing deep emotional pain. So much hurt and pain that you question whether it is even possible for the two of you to ever communicate well?
Research by Dr. Gottman revealed that couples who divorced started their discussions with a great deal of negative emotion and criticism. Basically, if an argument starts with harsh attacking of your partner, you will end on the same note-with at least as much tension as you began, if not more. Therefore, softening the start up of the conversations is crucial to resolving relationship conflicts. Here are a few principles to effectively communicate with respect and ways to softening the start-ups of your conversations:
Principle #1: Conflict is not determined by the one who initiates it, but by the one who responds. Complain but don’t blame. By now, you may be saying, “But I don’t start the arguments. He is always attacking me first.” You may be correct, but no matter how “at fault” you feel your partner is, he does not have the power to decide whether a fight actually occurs. That power rests with you, the responder. Approaching your partner with criticisms, accusations or simply not “fully” listening is not productive. As Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Your focus has to shift to being more conscious of your approach in conversations. For example, instead of blaming your partner, “You never do what you say you would do. You told me you would give the baby a bath tonight and you have been laying down since you got home,” try a simple complaint, “Hey James, Derrick still needs a bath. We agreed you’d give him a bath after dinner. I’m concerned that it is getting late and I would like to put him to bed.” In general, try noticing the less obvious gestures that makes your partner feel criticized or blamed in which you may contribute. This exercise causes you to focus on yourself and what you can work on. This may be hard for some to hear but this is where your work begins in order to transform your communication. Some of the behaviors that you contribute may include not letting him speak- interrupting or talking over him, rolling eyes, belittling him, or sucking teeth. These are the “little things” that are sort of unintentional but highly destructive behaviors. These behaviors interferes with allowing respectful communication.
Principle #2: Focus on your feelings by starting with “I” instead of “You.” When you start your statement with “I” you are less likely to seem to be critical. Starting a statement with “You” is a set-up for your partner to become defensive. Simple changes in your approach such as “you never listen to me” to “I don’t feel like you are listening right now.” The key is to focus on how you are feeling, not on accusing your partner. The goal is for both of you to feel heard and have a better understanding of each other.
Principle #3: Consider your timing. Let me say this disclaimer. There will be times in which it is critical to have a conversation at that very moment. However, the problem is that we either believe all conversations or conflicts are critical OR we try to sweep conflicts “under the rug” and never deal with them at all. The goal with this principle is to realize that by being more strategic in the timing of your conversations you can have more success.Begin to recognize what is going on at the time. Is he watching a game, doing work on the computer, or talking to his friends. If so, maybe that is not the time to approach him about a crucial topic. Your goal is to have his undivided attention, so consider what is going on at the time. “Well, he is always doing something”, some of you may say. Then it is critical to try the next suggestion. Get into a habit of setting a time that is most convenient for both of you, possibly after the kids are asleep, meet up for lunch or dinner, or on the weekend. Gaining his input as to a good time to meet when he is free from distractions may help. As stated earlier, there may be times the conversation is critical and cannot wait. However, this should be the exception and not majority of the time. Let this approach be rare. The goal is to have respectful and effective conversations.
Principle #4: Strive for understanding. Too often we focus on being right in our conversations rather than on understanding our partners. It is natural for our defensive mechanisms to pop up when we feel attacked. However, if we are really striving to change ourselves, because we acknowledge we can’t change the other person, we must strive to do things differently. Here are a few tips that you could do differently:
- Check to see if your partner heard you correctly. For example, “Are you saying…” or “So, what I heard you say is…”.
- In your own words, tell your partner what you understood him to say.
- Follow up with a check in statement such as “Did I get that right?”
- Let him affirm or correct what you said.
The goal with this principle is not to be right, not to be defensive, but to gain understanding.
Principle #5: Invite God to be an active participant, mediator and guide. Often we are overconfident in our ability to communicate or resolve conflicts. We drift away from what God intended this interaction to look or His purpose. Prior to or during a conflict, it is vital to ask God to take over our conversations. Sometimes just holding each other’s hands in prayer will break the spirit of negativity. R. A. Torry said:
The reason why many fail in battle is because they wait until the hour of battle. The reason why others succeed is because they have gained their victory on their knees long before the battle came…Anticipate your battle; fight them on your knees before temptation comes, and you will always have victory.
Consider these principles as you work to transform the communication in your relationships. Try embarking upon your next conflict discussion with these principles and new approaches. You will be amazed at your success, if you are willing to apply these principles intentionally.
If you need professional assistance, I am willing to help. I have a passion to work with women to improve themselves and making their relationships thrive! I provide relationship coaching online (Skype), marriage counseling and other services (Central Florida area). www.Breakthrough-Living.com. Call me today at 407-926-0319.