Communication

How to Build A Better Relationship Through Better Communication

couple having a conversation sitting outside on steps
Image by icsilviu


Narrated by Marie T. Russell

Watch video version on InnerSelf  or on YouTube

Relationships wax and wane, stretch and grow, shift and evolve. We are always changing and any relationships we have, are always changing too. Sometimes there are bumps in the road on the journey.

Giving the cold shoulder, and continually criticizing, are clear signs that issues haven’t been resolved. Unfinished business causes us to focus on what’s not working. The other person becomes the enemy rather than an ally. You can no longer see what drew you together. You stop doing the very things that once fanned your love.

Rather than risking long, draining battles, we choose to clam up and withdraw, put energy into other activities, such as work, exercise, television, and hobbies, or resort to digs, judgments, and blaming. In all these cases, intimacy dwindles and differences become obstacles to closeness.

After living together for a period of time, we can increasingly feel less open with our partner and start walling ourselves off. Slowly, slowly, we realize that we either have to give up and leave or step forward and speak about some specific things that have been bothering us. If deep down you know you truly love the one you are with, you need to make a few changes to keep the good thing you are fortunate enough to have alive and thriving.

7 Practical Tips to Help Love and Understanding Bloom

If you find yourself feeling isolated, separate, or different from someone you care for, instead of wallowing in those feelings, lashing out or pulling away, do the opposite. Do things that create connection.

Follow these seven guidelines to keep your love alive:

  1. Refrain from telling other people about themselves – using the terms "you this" and "you that"– whether in the form of unsolicited advice, labeling, sarcasm, criticism, teasing, blaming, evaluating, etc. Instead, talk about what is true for you, your “I”. Give information about what is going on for you and about what you're feeling, thinking, wanting, needing.

  1. Bring up one specific incident at a time and don’t begin dragging in everything, right down to the kitchen sink. Avoid the words “always” and “never.” And avoid big overgeneralities, such as "I no longer care for you," "You're gaslighting me," or "You never have anything positive to say." Stay specific.

  1. Listen with genuine attention. Ask questions and strive to understand the other person. Don’t defend yourself or strike back with “you statements” if attacked. Observe silence or speak your “I” – what’s true for you. 

    Along these lines, set up a time to talk and listen. When there are differences, each person needs uninterrupted time to talk about what’s on his or her mind while the other listens, with a genuine desire to understand. This is not a time for a discussion. It’s a time to just talk and listen. While listening, strive to walk in the other person’s shoes. When talking, talk about yourself, not the other person and what they might have said or done.

  1. Keep your word. Honor the agreements you make. Violating mutual understandings creates separation. Trust is built on integrity between your words and actions. When you need to alter an agreement, talk about it beforehand.

    When clarifying misunderstandings, if you violated an agreement, listen to the person that feels violated in order to truly understand their feelings and point of view. It's important to get to a place where you can empathize with what is true for them. After they tell you, and you understand them, say what you will do to avoid future misunderstandings. Then, keep your word.

    If you feel someone violated an agreement with you by not acting in line with the understanding you believe you had, speak up about how you felt about the specific incident at hand and what you want to be different in the future.


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  1. Offer genuine appreciations and praise. Look for the good whether it’s a characteristic, quality, or action. Look hard. It’s buried there somewhere. Then voice it… often.

  1. Acts of kindness or selfless giving will go far in fostering feelings of connection and love. Initiate physical contact (not sexual) to nonverbally connect thru a hug, squeeze, or loving look. Ask, “How can I help right now?” or “What can I do?” and do it. Cooperating and helping with a positive attitude goes a long way to melt a heart.

    Little gestures offer love in a tangible form. Volunteer to do the dishes. Run an errand. Bring flowers. Call the other person at the office and leave a sexy message. Write a love note. Plan a date night.

  1. Reach out to a counselor, or psychotherapist if you don't feel like you can undertake your relationship remodel alone, It's helpful to have a third party to give input, support, and guidance.

As you implement these tips, watch your love grow. Small steps done thoughtfully can shift years of habit. Remember, captains steer huge ships with tiny rudders. So shift how you act with those you love and watch how everything changes towards a brighter horizon.

With a little awareness, persistence, and practice, you can also navigate whatever twists and turns you encounter, and successfully keep your relationships on the high seas.

A Common Scenario, and the Way Through

A couple came in for communication counseling. They very much loved each other but their styles of communication were causing them strife.

Their strategies for interacting with each other were quickly revealed. The wife realized she didn't speak up because she was always concerned with keeping everybody happy and maintaining the peace. The husband similarly thought his silent tolerance was best. His approach was to take on a "whatever" attitude towards what his wife and children were saying, even when he didn't agree. Too frequently, he got fed up with the situation, and then lashed out verbally by swearing and yelling.

The clear communication problem here is that neither style keeps the love flowing. Both ways of ineffective communicating create fewer feelings of connection and increased misunderstanding. Love is based on feeling understood. That is who we fall in love with, a person who really "gets who we are" and displays appreciation even when we disagree. That's the feeling we want to nurture and maintain with family, friends, etc.

The prescription for these two typical but dysfunctional ways of operating is the same and it's no surprise. This couple needs to be committed to following Attitude Reconstruction's 4 Rules of communication, especially the first two rules:

1) The First Rule is "talk about yourself." This is our domain. It's appropriate to share what we feel, think, want, and need. As we reveal information about ourselves, it fosters closeness.

2) The Second Rule is to stay specific and concrete. That's what we do with everything from music to architecture to computers; and what we must do when communicating. When we stay concrete, others can understand what we're saying - the topic, our request, and our boundaries. This will minimize confusion and maximize peace.

This was going to be new territory for both of them as each was in the habit of not speaking up for very different reason. However, they were both willing to try this grand experiment.

After considerable practice, the cool result was that every time they sacrificed speaking up about what was true for themselves, they felt it in their bodies (viscerally). In the past, they had felt these sensations were something they just had to live with. Now they realized that their physical symptoms were letting them know they needed to change their communication strategies. They could. instead, choose to speak their "I" about a specific topic.

With much practice and diligence they were able to communicate effectively and lovingly, and take their relationship to new heights.

©2022 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.

Book by this Author:

Attitude Reconstruction

Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.

book cover: Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life  by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.With practical tools and real-life examples, this book can help you stop settling for sadness, anger, and fear, and infuse your life with joy, love, and peace. Jude Bijou's comprehensive blueprint will teach you to: • cope with family members' unsolicited advice, cure indecision with your intuition, deal with fear by expressing it physically, create closeness by truly talking and listening, improve your social life, increase staff morale in just five minutes a day, handle sarcasm by visualizing it flying by, carve out more time for yourself by clarifying your priorities, ask for a raise and get it, stop fighting via two easy steps, cure kids' tantrums constructively. You can integrate Attitude Reconstruction into your daily routine, regardless of your spiritual path, cultural background, age, or education.

For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of: Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT)

Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.

In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education.

Visit her website at AttitudeReconstruction.com/ 
  

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