5 Steps to better communication you can take right now
Avoid Assumptions: A major communication pitfall is making assumptions. Couples make assumptions about each other’s thoughts, feelings and motivations and then react from these mistaken assumptions. Take, for example, a wife who assumes her husband doesn’t let her know he’s running late because she’s not a priority for him. (I’m using a heterosexual married couple in this example but this can be applied to all couples: married, or not, gay or straight.) If he really cared about her, she thinks, he would call. When he gets home, she may yell or be cold to him. Based on her icy reception, he assumes she doesn’t want him around so he holes himself up in a separate room and goes onto his computer. She assumes he’d rather be playing video games or on Facebook than spending time with her. She continues to give him the cold shoulder. And so the cycle repeats.
Ask Questions: There’s no better way of interrupting this assumption-making process than asking questions. Questions are invaluable for learning and all good relationships involve a continual process of learning about our partners. No two people know everything about each other, no matter how long they’ve been together. Discovering new things about one’s partner is vital to a fulfilling relationship.
Don’t Take Things Personally: To some extent, we all take things personally. If our neighbor gives us a terse ‘hi’ at the supermarket, we wonder if she’s mad at us. It’s especially easy to take things personally when it comes to our partner or spouse. In the example above, the wife believes that her husband not calling communicates how little he thinks of her. His lack of communication communicates volumes to her. But, what else could be going on for him? Calling ahead may simply not be that important to him, and he doesn’t realize how important it is to her. He may feel badly about running late and doesn’t call as a way to avoid disappointing her. Of course, by not calling, he runs the risk of upsetting her more but the question is not whether his decision was “correct” but whether it reflects an uncaring attitude. Ultimately, our behavior is as much a product of inner struggles and fears, as of our feelings about others. Assuming that everything our partner does reveals something about how he or she feels about us can lead us down a communication impasse.
(For Women) Don’t underestimate how important your happiness is to him
Women tend to underestimate how much their partners want them to be happy. This is a striking gender difference that cannot be overstated. In heterosexual relationships, men are far more concerned with their partners’ happiness (and unhappiness) than vice versa. This is not to say women don’t care about their partners’ well being, but it’s usually less of an ongoing, top-of-mind concern. Men are more cognizant and sensitive to their wives moods and are more likely to try to avoid making them unhappy (again, even if the avoidance itself makes them unhappy).
Give him/her the benefit of the doubt
The importance of giving your partner the benefit of the doubt cannot be overemphasized. This is very challenging to do when you’re in a tense or ailing relationship. One of the hallmarks of a distressed relationship is mistrust between partners. One thing partners can do is to catch themselves when they are thinking the worst of their partner’s behavior or motivation. You can ask yourself, “What would I do or say differently if I gave him/her the benefit of the doubt?” It takes two to tango but only one to break a cycle. Just as you can perpetuate a negative cycle, you can also initiate a positive one. Giving your partner the benefit of the doubt can lead to your partner responding in kind.
If you need help with your relationship please reach out and contact Dr. Feldman. With two offices (one in Wellesley and Newton area and a second office in Cambridge between Central and Kendall Square) Dr. Feldman is conveniently located to help the greater Boston community. Dr. Feldman offers numerous types of counseling and therapy for the greater Boston and Cambridge region.