Communication is such a big part of healthy relationships, and how you communicate with others is very important. There are many different communication styles, and we can talk about those in the future, but for now, let’s talk about the importance. Communication is about the exchange of ideas, but communicating in a way that the other person can hear you is an art form.
I have worked and met with a lot of people in my career, and no two people communicate the same. When I start talking about communication, I talk about being able to listen first. This is hard for some, because they want to say what they want to say when they think of it. Part of the art of communication is being able to listen, be aware, and pick up on things that may not be spoken. Words relay information, but facial expressions, body language, and eye contact also relay information. If you read a letter, without being face to face with the author, our own thoughts and interpretation can get in the way of the message that it truly being shared. Just the phrase, “I love you”, can be different depending on the eye contact, phrasing, facial expression and so much more. It can be genuine, sarcastic, or just plain funny, depending on the context, but listening and awareness become the first steps in really communicating.
Next, being able to put your thought into words become important. This is where most therapists talk about “I statements”, and those are good, but generally not enough to get your point across. Don’t be afraid to talk about how you feel about things. If you are hurt by someone’s behavior, let them know that you are hurt. If you are afraid, tell them. If you are trying to make decisions about other things, share your thoughts. Different issues require different approaches, whether you are trying to buy curtains with your spouse, or processing a conflict, try to make sure you get herd by saying things in a way that the other person doesn’t feel blamed or get defensive. This is where the difference between being assertive and aggressive, and supportive and controlling comes into play. Choosing your words careful can help boost good communication and allow you to move forward, or it can keep the fight going if not chosen well.
One side note, this post assumes that your relationship is healthy. Abusive relationships generally don’t have healthy communication, and trying to do some of the above skills can put you at risk. Evaluate your situation and get help and support if you are in an abusive relationship.
If you have trouble communicating with people close to you, try working on a format that works for you and your family. Set up rules, when you need to talk about something important, including having an object and only the person with the object can talk, and the others have to listen. When the listeners start talking, they have to review what was said so the talker knows they were heard before sharing their thoughts. Don’t allow interruptions. Put a time limit on making points, to keep the conversation moving. Develop the ability to agree to disagree (this is really big). Understand that it may take leaving and returning to the conversation to come to a conclusion. This is more formal communication, but it can work for anything, from deciding where to go on vacation, or other more difficult topics.
I’m sure each fish in the pond has a different way of communicating too, but at least we don’t have to talk in water. Learning how to communicate effectively is a process, and can be very challenging. It’s important though in the quest for happiness. Feeling heard and supported by the people around you is an important step to being happy for life.