5 Principles for Healthy Communication

Language is a unique human invention. We were given language to create, convey information, and express ourselves. Can you imagine going through the day without narrating your experiences in your head? The problem with language is that we often take its power and influence for granted – especially when communicating with your spouse. Here are 5 essential principles for healthy communication.

#1. Attack the Problem, Not the Person

This rule is often broken in the heat of the moment when we feel we are being attacked ourselves. Staying focused on the problem and not slandering the person is integral to healthy communication.

#2. Don’t Bring Up the Past

Stay in the here and now! This often occurs when we break rule number one and we want to lash out at our partner, so we end up bringing up something they did wrong from the past.

#3. Speak from Your Own Thoughts and Feelings

We often want to put our feelings onto one another instead of owning them ourselves. We might ask, “John why do you always abandon me at parties?” Instead we could say, “John, I would prefer you to stay with me at parties.”

#4. Stay Away from Absolutes

We can use the preceding example to illustrate this point as well. When Mary was accusing John of abandoning her at parties, she used the word always. The problem is this type of statement leaves John nowhere to go. It backs him into a corner and paints him one shade of color so that he has to defend himself.

#5. Don’t Bring in Other People – No Triangulation

When we feel attacked, we often want to bring in other people to take our sides. This does not mean we physically go get someone, but more metaphorically, when we mention someone else’s name in the conversation to illustrate our point. “I was talking to Susan about this issue and she agrees with me that you’re being a real heel.” Or the husband might reply, “Bob thinks you’re being completely unreasonable in this issue.”

In addition to the 5 rules, there are several techniques that can be helpful to support the rules. We’ll discuss the 3 most important. Consider paraphrasing what your partner has said in order to convey empathetic listening. For example, “Mary, I hear that you are upset because you feel abandoned at parties and that you would like me to stay with you more and socialize as a couple.” Or, “John, I hear that you like to talk with your male friends about man things sometimes, and not always socialize at parties as a couple.” By paraphrasing our partner’s statements, we demonstrate a sense of being heard and emotionally validated.

Just Listen

Another technique is not trying to solve your partner’s problem. When your partner is venting to you about his or her day, don’t take the other person’s side or jump in and try to solve their problem. Your job in this case is to soothe your partner’s frustrations and encourage them to solve their own problem(s)—this especially pertains to men.

Try Walking Away

Finally, try the technique of walking away or talking about the issues at a later date. The rule of never going to sleep mad is ridiculous. Having time to compose yourself, or giving yourself time to think through the issue is never wrong. Some issues are more difficult than others, and they need thoughtful consideration before they are discussed.

Healthy communication is not natural. We have to work at how we communicate in order to resolve our differences and move forward as a healthy couple. The goal is not ever to argue. The goal is to argue in a way that moves each individual closer to being whole, and collectively in a better place as a couple.






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