Communication is one of the most common issues reported by couples who present for counseling or are experiencing relationship issues. While many people do a great job learning and developing their communication skills in times of tension, they have a tendency to forget to uses great new skills. In moments of calmness people have time to think and make conscious decisions and efforts to do what is in the best interest of their relationships. When people are upset, the tendency then is to turn to what they know and are comfortable with. Very often that is off-the-cuff speech and actions that at too often more intent on inflicting hurt or retaliating. At the very least, these methods are intended to have the speaker be heard, or make a point, not giving much attention to hearing the other person and nurturing/repairing the relationship.
Still, it’s hard to blame the individual since most of the development of communication skills is focused around everyday conversation and not as much on communicating in tense situations.
Use soft tones- When conversations get tense that tension is often reflected in voice tones- They get dryer, and may be elevated- Even if your partner gets to that point make a conscious effort to speak calmly. Your calmer tone encourages your partner to come back down. When one person raises their voice the tendency of the other person is to do the same, thus leading to a test of the wills. When one person intentionally keeps calm it takes some time and greater effort but it can have the same impact of causing the other person to lower their voice.
Stay in close proximity and maintain eye contact (that’s provided that it is safe to do so and they are not throwing and hitting things). When you speak with a partner no matter how tough the situation, continue to remind yourself that this is a person you love- this helps you be able to see them positively even when you are angry at them. When you look into their eyes as you speak, you want to relay that caring- Your words will say that yes you mean business but the gentle way you look at them will remind them that despite the situation you still care. Again, provided that it is safe, use soothing touches. Gentle touches such as touching or holding the person’s hand, softly touching their arm- if you know your partner’s personal weak spot- a place they like to be touched- not in a sexual way, use that.
Acknowledge the person and the issues. Allow the person to speak, and actually listen to them. Validate what they have to say. Not everything needs an explanation, and you don’t have to agree with them to acknowledging what someone has to say. It’s ok to let your partner know that you hear them. When a person feels heard, they are more amenable to a lot of. They will be more apt to listen to you or be more open to working something out.
Use carefully selected words to state your piece or make your point. Employ the use of I The word you can often have an accusatory tone that quickly sends people into defense mode. When you start a sentence the other party quickly gets the message that they are about to be blamed or held responsible for something. The normal reaction to that feeling is to mount a defense –This is not my fault or This is why this happened-. While this is happening, the person pretty much stops listening to the speaker When you need to address your partner’s actions or words, use I Statements “I feel______ when you_______. It would help me more if you______.” That way you are not accusing them but simply acknowledging your own issues with something.
Accept responsibility for your own parts in issue and be willing to verbalize it. A disagreement involves at least two people. While one person may have been the primary agitator it is very likely that other parties involved also played a part. Be willing to take responsibility for the role you played in the issue and more importantly be prepared to make amends for and rectify your contribution to the issue. This reassures your partner that you are going to be a part of the solution as well. It says that you are in to fix the issue, not just pass blame.
Doing these 5 simple things will help you communicate more effectively during times of tension and increase your chances of actually resolving disagreements. Remember, when two people are yelling no one is listening, and if there is no listener there is no communication and nothing can get resolved. Your relationship with your partner is one of the most important relationships in your life. It is also one of the most fragile. Maintaining and protecting it takes conscious thought and action.
Many couples spend much of their adulthood together and then later find themselves separated. This frequently happens because couples get caught up in life and don’t notice that they are growing apart over the years. The proverbial 7 year itch is something that happens several times of the course of a relationship (every 7 to 10 years). This is the amount of time it takes for the minor changes and growth that happens in the individual every day to become notable changes and the reasons couples find themselves at odds.
One of the primary issues that couples encounter after a long time in relationships is a disconnect. When people get together they generally meet specific needs for each other. As these needs are met and people grow, there is a need for a sort of renewal of their agreement or purpose. Most times people see these changes but don’t quite acknowledge or recognize them. The couple continues operating as the couple who met instead of who they are or have grown into. Individuals continue to grow and evolve to the point where a major change can be noticed over a period of 7-10 years. If as they are growing they are not making continuous efforts to stay in emotional touch with each other they can find themselves one day so different they don’t recognize this partner. As the couple’s life changes (like when children come in or they go through crises or changes in careers) there are also adaptations that each makes to accommodate those and that is another place where they may change in different directions. If a constant effort is not being made to continue to make the changes match they are at risk.
A couple who wants to survive their individual growth as a couple must realize and address the changes that are happening in them every day and make the necessary adjustment so that they continue to be the ideal partner for their more evolved and more mature partner.