If all the marriage help and relationship advice books suggest the same approach to effective couples communication, maybe we should start to listen.
What doesn’t work (ineffective communication statements):
“You’re being ridiculous!”
“You never help out; I’ve asked you a thousand times to do that!”
“You always say ‘no.’ I don’t know why I even bother!”
What works (effective communication statements):
“I feel unappreciated when you do…”
“I’d rather we approach this differently. Can I suggest something?”
“I’m needing some extra help around the house. It would be really helpful if you…”
Notice how you would feel and react if you were on the receiving end of the above statments.
If you start discussions or arguments with “You” statements (explaining all the ways in which your spouse/partner has messed up your life or is failing you), your partner will most likely feel attacked and become defensive. Most of us would.
Defensiveness drastically reduces the probability of you (the speaker) getting your point across and sets the stage for an attack-defensiveness-counterattack exchange (which only leads to frustation and hurt feelings).
So the next time you make a request or the discussion is starting to get a little heated, try changing your communication style a bit (especially if what you’ve both been doing hasn’t worked out well). Stick with it: It may take time and some effort on your part before you notice any difference. The words we choose have an enormous impact on our marriage or relationship, so let’s be mindful of our language–the words we select. And remember, small changes can begin the process of making a big difference (even when it’s all your partner’s fault!).
Couples Communication Resource
I created a comprehensive communication workbook for couples. For more information, check out Communication Breakthrough: A Communication Guide for Couples.
Dr. Rich Nicastro