When I first wrote last weeks blog I never intended it to be part one of a two part series, or that I’d get some feedback suggesting that I use the topic as my second workshop topic, but here I am and the event has been planned!! There are DOZENS of tips that I uncovered to help improve communication in our relationships. In my last blog I touched upon a couple of reasons why I have found working on communication skills to be so important, but they were only the tip of the iceberg.
There are any number of reasons why communication can break down. I know I’m not alone in my experiences, and I’m not just talking about communication in our marriages, what about a breakdown of communication with our children, (I know my 9 & 12 year old could use these tips!), with family (in-laws?), or with our friends, (even our longest relationships can fall into a pattern which can cause a breakdown of understanding who we really are!). I’ve experienced some significant loss of friends in my adult years which has been devastating, and why? Because we couldn’t be adults and talk things out. Is there ever a time when communication can’t heal, fix, or restore? I don’t know. Yes, we need to back up what we say through our actions. But if you can’t articulate how you’re feeling and what you need, then how can we ever expect others to understand us and create a mutually beneficial relationship?
Call me idealistic, call me naive, tell me I’m wrong, but I’ve experienced a MASSIVE come back in my marriage because of our decision to rebuild our communication. And when I say our marriage was at rock bottom...I mean it. He looked at me a few months after his hospitalization in 2018 and asked me, “Why have you stayed? I would never blame you if you decided to leave.” What do you say to that?? My heart breaks now as I’m recalling the moment. He was so very broken and while this process of him rebuilding himself has had to take priority, my own life and growth had to continue too. But I looked him dead in the eye and told him “I made a promise and as long as you continue to do whatever it is you need to do to get the help you need to become the person I know you can be, I promise to stay by you.” And that’s exactly what he’s done. We still have an immense amount of work to continue to do, but we have healed in so many ways.
SO here are a few more tips about how to improve communication, not just within our marriages, but within all relationships we treasure and value so highly. (Ed note...I’m starting at 6 because of the last blog touched upon 5 ways!)
6. MAKE SMALL TALK AND SHARE THE MUNDANE. Every conversation doesn’t have to be super serious all the time. I was very guilty of trying to use every second as quality time and I never brought up anything that would create stress, or be considered a conversation of depth because I knew that Kevin’s job was so heavy all the time that I always wanted to keep our marriage light. But having lighthearted small talk about current events or stories about your day are so important too. Every experience you have changes you in just tiny ways and if you don’t share the little things, how can you feel comfortable discussing the big things??
7. TALK ABOUT YOURSELF but do not dominate the conversation. Have you ever been so excited to talk to a friend and the next thing you know it’s been an hour and you’ve hardly shared anything about what you had going on? Hopefully that doesn’t happen often, even though there may be times that your friend needs to dominate a conversation because they are dealing with something difficult. But being mindful that our time is limited and precious and to allow each person the air time to share and feel heard is vital for a successful relationship.
8. NEVER INTERRUPT! I touched upon this last blog, but allowing the space to really listen to the other person without interrupting is critical to making someone feel understood. There is someone in my life who within seconds of me responding to her cuts me off me with a “yeah, yeah, yeah.” That feels so belittling and shows me she actually doesn’t care or want to know what I have to say. So, I’ve learned to email her instead.
9. Speaking of email...USING DIFFERENT FORMS of communicating can be fun and engaging. Sometimes it’s easier to broach a subject through text or email that you might be hesitant to talk about face to face, but then that could be the first steps of getting an idea across then using it as a springboard for face to face communication. It’s fun to get sexy emoji through a text which might lead to a conversation about fun adult time later in the day.
10. Ahhh, BEING PLAYFUL, HUMOROUS, AND FLIRTATIOUS in your communication can absolutely spice up any marriage. Talking about adult topics, banter, and humor can lighten up any situation. Obviously being fun and lighthearted can keep a friendship exciting and engaging, laughing is a MUST in all relationships. There is significant research to support how laughter reduces stress, improves our overall health, and is even linked to longevity.
11. One thing that Kevin and I did fairly regularly the first 10 years of our relationship was have CHECK-INS. The conversation always began with “How are we doing as ________?” For example, I’d ask, “How are we doing as Mom and Dad?” And then we’d talk about successes and challenges we were feeling about our parenting techniques. Then we’d move to the next roles that we were in. For example, “How are we doing as Daughter and Son?” And we’d discuss ways of connecting to our parents and in-laws better. I valued those conversations so much because it forced us to be reflective, make changes, and hold each other accountable.
12. Those check-ins were difficult at times because of the raw and exposed nature of the nitty-gritty parts of our lives. So when Kevin would point out that I wasn’t being consistent with time-outs, I’d want to retort something about him not being here to see the times I am consistent, I knew I had to MINIMIZE MY EMOTIONAL REACTIONS. Great communication comes from the real and raw opening up and if I had reacted negatively, then it would have shut him down and he’d feel like he couldn’t say how he was feeling. Maybe even causing him to shut down. That’s the exact opposite of what you want to happen.
13. One thing I have learned from my 15 years of teaching teenagers, you can never solve an emotionally charged situation with a, “Just calm down!” But you can ask them to talk through their feelings by asking them to use “I” statements. I’ve used this technique with my girls and while I should use it more often, I think it’s a great tool to help us communicate through the years when children have a hard time expressing themselves. USING “I AM FEELING_________ BECAUSE_______.” STATEMENTS can be so powerful. It allows the other to feel that they have a voice, that what they have to say is important and meaningful. When I ask my girls to express how they are feeling it opens up a depth to the conversation that I know they value and will consider long after the conversation has ended.
14. TALK THROUGH THINGS BEFORE THEY HAPPEN. While on the subject of communicating with our children, for example, having conversations about what to do if they get home and no one is there, is a great one to have BEFORE it ever happens. Not staring at the kitchen camera through my Vivint app while driving 80 on the highway so that the second my 9 year old came through the door I could tell her she was home alone and that I’d be home in five minutes. Ugh! But seriously, set aside time on Sunday to discuss how the week will go with your spouse and/or your children so that everybody is on the same page and knows what to expect each day. It’ll make the week run much smoother!
15. This last one goes out to everyone who has run through these last 14 tips and said, “I feel like I’ve tried them all, and I’m still struggling.” YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT THINGS CAN CHANGE! If you feel stuck, feel like nothing you are doing is making a difference, and that you’ll never be able to improve the communication within your relationship ...you're right. You are self-proficizing the end and destruction of your relationships. Yes, it takes two to build strong relationships, but if you’re coming into the conversations with a negative attitude, then you’re not doing everything you can.
Relationships are NOT easy! They take real work and an unwavering dedication and commitment to work. These tips are not meant to be a fix all or a band-aid. They are meant for you to be reflective in the ways you are communicating in you relationships in hopes you can tweak and use these to improve upon the foundations you already have established to build everlasting, mutually beneficial, fulfilling, and loving relationships.
Please comment below or message me if any of these have touched you in any way. Knowing the time and effort that these have taken, I always welcome comments and love knowing that these blogs are helpful!!
Until next week, keep living your best life!