Almost everyone has heard communication is critical to healthy relationships. In spite of this, most people don’t make the time to improve their communication skills, nor do they make an effort to understand the different ways others communicate.
Everyone is aware of the stereotype of men communicating logically and women communicating emotionally, but like most clichés, it is known without being understood. It’s one of those things men agree with when they talk about their women being crazy, and women agree with when they talk about their men being emotionally unavailable. The problem with this cliché isn’t that it lacks valuable insight, but that the insight it holds has been distilled into such an effective, simplistic form and repeated so often it has become trite.
Great relationship communication requires a few different things:
1) Complete honesty. If you can’t be honest about how you feel, you will never be satisfied in a relationship. Sometimes it’s tempting to withhold thoughts or feelings to avoid an argument, but sooner or later those issues will resurface. Be direct and straight up about how you feel and both people will benefit.
2) Leave negative emotion out of it. Talking to someone when you’re angry or frustrated makes it far more likely you will simply vent your emotions instead of communicating your thoughts successfully.
3) Be a good, receptive listener. Pay attention to what the other person is saying and try to see things from their point of view.
Eventually arguments will happen – anyone who thinks the honeymoon phase will be permanent is living in a fairy tale. Arguments aren’t a bad thing though, and it’s unfortunate our society assigns such negative connotations to arguing. An argument is an opportunity to resolve differing views and improve your relationship, and if you do it properly, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Almost every time a friend or client in a relationship has told me about an argument they’ve had with their girlfriend, the cause was miscommunication due to the differences in how men and women express themselves. Women act out when they feel a lack of passion, love, or interest, but they often say they’re acting out for other reasons.
The following example demonstrates the difference between a typical response to anger, and an effective one using healthy communication skills:
Say your girlfriend has been feeling unappreciated lately, but hasn’t told you how she feels. One day you might be minding your own business, watching your favourite show, and suddenly she will be furious and ask why you spend so much time watching TV. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first time you’ve watched your favourite show in months. She’s angry because she feels neglected, and when she sees you doing other things instead of paying attention to her, she will lash out at whatever you happen to be doing.
It’s easy to see how this situation could lead to a bad argument. The man gets angry because he hasn’t watched his favourite show in months, and believes his girlfriend’s anger is unjustified. The woman will get angry because she interprets his misunderstanding as a lack of caring. In her mind, it’s obvious she doesn’t actually care about him watching a certain show, and he should know that.
To avoid a bad argument and resolve the situation in a positive way, re-evaluate the situation using the three principles listed above. Instead of getting defensive, the man should step back and consider the way his girlfriend is acting. Does it make sense for her to be so upset about TV? Or is there something else bothering her?
If after considering things from her point of view the man determines her emotional response is unjustified, he should communicate this to her. It’s important to leave emotion out of this: saying “You’re being irrational!” won’t get you anywhere, but saying “Hey, what’s the problem? This is the first time I’ve watched this in a while, it doesn’t make sense to me that you’re so angry. Is there something else bothering you?” will calm her down and facilitate a conversation about the real issue.
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