Communication Strategies: Developed by Relationship Counselors at the Center for Growth / Therapy in Philadelphia
Communicate Communicate Communicate that’s all you want to do!... these are words that typically resonate in therapeutic offices probably all over the world. However communication, specifically within intimate relationships is about more than just talking with one another. Generally there’s a heightened and intense desire to engage with a partner in an open, honest expression of feelings and experiences. When the differences of opinions and needs are real, the idea of talking is a daunting and unpleasant task for many individuals. Here are some communication strategie guidelines to facilitate expression of emotions, understanding nonverbal communication and learning to listen.
Emotional Expression involves truly acknowledging your feelings. The easiest way to start this exploration is through “I feel” statements like “I feel lonely”, “I feel confused” or “I feel happy”, etc. Once you complete the “I feel” statement then go deeper. Usually people don’t feel one isolated emotion, typically more than one emotion occurs simultaneously such as “I feel angry , sad and confused” or “I feel excited, scared but really happy”. Emotions are very layered and complex which is why it is important to explore deeper. After identifying these emotions then ask yourself “Why?” This short but powerful word can help you get to the reason, the foundation for why you are having the feelings you are. What is the story that you tell yourself about the facts? While this may all sound tremendously annoying or even uninviting, it can be very helpful to not only your self-actualization process but also to the level of connection and intimacy achieved in your relationship. Awareness of one’s emotions is great because it provides insight into how we communicate verbally and nonverbally with others. An example of this could be “I feel upset and angry because I was really looking forward to our dinner plans.” while your brows are furrowed (the nonverbal component).
Feelings, Words and Acting are different behaviors. In communicating, it is critical to know the difference. Feeling involves your emotions and your thoughts, expressing words is a behavior. Communication can occur verbally or nonverbally. Acting is the behavior that connects what you are feeling and talking about. It is helpful to determine if the feelings, Words and acting experience is appropriate to the situation. A possible example to this may be becoming furious with someone because they forgot to return something (a call, the book, your hammer, something benign). Certainly it is valid to have your feelings but instead of talking about what is being experienced you decide in a rage to break up. In learning how to appropriately communicate with your partner a simple rule of thumb is to communicate with others in the same way you want to be communicated with. You are then modeling a behavior.
Nonverbal Communication has many purposes, one of which is to convey emotions that we may be resistant, unaware or unable to express. This is most appropriately suited to express feelings than actual ideas though many people attempt to convey ideas nonverbally. One of the most popular is the “I want to make love, have sex or fuck” idea in a nonverbal fashion. The challenge to nonverbal communication is that it can be ambiguous and is open typically to multiple interpretations. An example of the ambiguousness in relation to the idea of “I want to make love or fuck” could be a type of kiss. For some it is a green light to move forward and for others it may be an “I like you” gesture. This is why it becomes necessary for our nonverbal communication to become congruent with our verbal communication.
Listening is also an important part to the communication process. Listening is comprised of the following steps:
- Listing to the message – Being able to summarize what your partner is asking for. Attending to the message – Doing something with what your partner is asking for.
- Understanding a message – Here we simply make sense of the message. Validating your partner’s feelings given that they do have their own unique understanding of the situation.
- Responding to the message - this could involve clarifying your understanding of the message, providing feedback to the message, not adding your own perspective They are the focus. Remembering – This is ability to recall the details (all of the positive and the negative moments) that have contributed to their perspective which is typically an important piece to gaining intimacy and building trust in a relationship.
All of these communication strategies for being an active supportive listener will put you a good road to better having better communication with your partner.