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communication

Change Your Perspective

I had an interesting experience the other day while driving with my husband. I happened to notice that the side windows of my car had a mottled smokey pattern and I asked my husband why the windows were like that. He looked at the windows and said he saw no pattern there. To which I replied it was so obvious, could he not see. It was right there. We went back and forth like this for a while, him trying to convince me that there was nothing to see and me trying to convince him that there most definitely was something to see. I was tempted to ask him if he was blind, when I happened to notice that he was not wearing sunglasses and I was. I took off my sunglasses and handed them to him. He then said, "Oh, I see what you are talking about."

perspective

That experience started me wondering how often we may misunderstand our partner simply because we are not able to see as they see. If it were possible for us to put on a pair of glasses and see things from our partner's point of view, many disputes would be much easier to resolve.

How often do you find yourself trying to convince your parter that something is so, just to have them try to convince you that the opposite is true? In those situations both of you could benefit from exchanging glasses, so that you could each see from the other's perspective.

Instead of getting frustrated, like I was when I wondered if my husband was blind because he could not see what was so obvious to me, try to find a way to express yourself that helps your partner see what you see. Find a way to hand them a pair of glasses to help them see. You may have to put what you are saying in terms that make sense to your partner, try relating it to something that they have experienced. Remember that to appreciate what salt tastes like you first need to taste it. But this is not only about helping them see what you see, it is also about you seeing from their perspective.

Men and women may have difficulty communicating because they lack a common experience to draw from in order to make sense of what is being said. Even when they have the same experience, because of the different ways the male and the female brains work, they may still lack a common experience. In general women integrate emotions and logic; where men tend to compartmentalize. Men tend to think in a focused and linear manner and women to think broadly, constantly interconnecting and linking everything together.

The next time you find yourself thinking that perhaps your partner is blind, because they cannot see the obvious, pause and take the following challenge. Give each other 2 minutes to explain your thoughts and position as clearly as you can to the other. Make sure you each repeat in your own words what your partner has said. Allow your partner to clarify any misunderstandings. Then spend the next 5 minutes taking the other person's position. Discuss the issue, as if you each were doing your best to convince each other from your partner's perspective. When you change your perspective, so that you are looking through their glasses understanding grows, and you may become less concerned with being right.

Evaluating Expecations

If you were expecting your partner to get home at 12:00 midnight and they got home at 10:00 pm you may be pleasantly surprised. If however you were expecting them home at 4:00 pm and they got home at 10:00 pm you may be furious, especially if they had not let you know that they would be late. They would have arrived home at the same time in both instances, what is different is your expectations. At times our expectations can cause us a lot of unnecessary distress. Expectations, especially if they are unrealistic, will lead to frustration and disappointment.

If frustration and disappointment are feelings that you are frequently experiencing in your relationship, then it may be helpful to take a look at your expectations. A good place to begin is to actually get your expectations out into the open. Often we have hidden expectations of each other. Things that we expect our partner to know and do, just because that is the way it should be. At times it can be as simple as, we are not getting what we want and need because our partner is unaware of that want or need. It is important to clearly communicate your expectations to your partner. You can only do this when you are clear on what your expectations are.

Before you communicate your expectations to your partner try writing them out and asking yourself, “How realistic are these expectations?” “Do I expect the same kind of behavior from myself?” “Might there be another way to look at this?” “How can I make my expectations more realistic and at the same time remain true to myself?”

You will want to remain firm when it comes to expectations arising from your values and principles. For example it is always reasonable to expect to be treated respectfully in your relationship. It is also reasonable to expect your partner to be honest and open with you. However when it comes to expectations based on preference it is important to be flexible. Which route to take to get from a to b, where you go to eat, what entertainment or activities are all examples of expectation, which if they are causing frustration and disappointment, may need to be adjusted or better communicated to your partner. Remember that, if you have trouble agreeing, you always have the option of taking turns when it comes to decisions based on preference.

Susan Page said, “The expectation that you can have everything you want in your marriage will always be frustrated. If you can accept your spouse, be grateful for what you have, and be gracious about the things you don't get from your spouse, you are more likely to thrive as a couple.”

Love MEANS Having To Say I'm Sorry

You have probably heard the saying, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I think the logic behind this saying is the idea that love is about acceptance. While it is very true that love is about accepting your partner for who and what they are; it is also true that when you love someone you must be willing to say, “I’m sorry.” When you live together day in and day out; you will inevitably hurt one another, hopefully not on purpose. But whether the hurt was intentional or not, a sincere apology helps to heal the wound.

If you have been hurt, take responsibility for clearly communicating your feelings to your partner. Don’t look for offense, score-keep and wait or insist that your partner apologize.

I'm SorryThis is one of those areas where you need to row your own boat. You need to control what you can control—your own behavior. If you hurt your partner, accept responsibility for your words or your behavior and be big enough to genuinely apologize.

Saying the words, “I’m sorry,” can be hollow and useless if you do not also attempt to understand your partner’s thoughts and feelings. Why was what happened hurtful to them? What need is underneath their upset? Try to step into your partner’s shoes so that you begin to understand what is going on for them.

Try seeing your words and behavior through your partner eyes. What is your behavior saying to them? When you make an honest attempt to really see things from each other’s perspective wonderful things can begin to happen in your relationship.

Do You Know What You Need?

In any relationship, clearly communicating our expectations, needs and wants, makes it much more likely that those will be met. This means that we need to be clear about what we expect, want and need.What stops people from asking for what they need in their relationships? It could be pride, fear, or a lack of awareness.

If what keeps you from letting our partner know what you want and need is that you do not know yourself what it is that you want or need, it is time to get to know your self. Awareness begins with paying attention to your feelings, paying attention to what you enjoy, what tastes good, smells good and feels good to you. You can begin with food and entertainment preferences and move on to what is it that helps you feel loved, accepted and respected in your relationship.

If it is fear that keeps you from speaking up, you might do well to consider that although asking does mean there is a possibility of hearing, “no;” not asking almost guarantees that you will not get what you need or at least not consistently. If fear is getting in your way then it is time to take a deep breath, face your fear and speak up.

Sometimes it is pride that keeps you from sharing your wants and needs with your partner. You think, “I shouldn’t have to tell him/her, s/he should already know,” or you may choose to withdraw and stop communicating when you feel hurt or upset. Stubbornness can prevent you from getting your needs met. What you choose to do may be moving you farther and farther from what it is that you need, but you may refuse to see it. Consider for example a husband who feels his wife is too busy with school, work or the children to spend enough time with him. He feels hurt and withdraws. Later when his wife says lets go do something, he chooses to reject her offer because he felt rejected and hurt. What he needs is quality time with his wife, but his actions are moving him farther from getting those needs met.

It is important to stop and think about if our actions are getting us closer to what we need and want or farther away. Gratitude and open-mindedness are the antidotes for pride. Stay open to possibilities and look for solutions rather than problems.

The Art of Being Heard

Have you ever found yourself saying, "You don't listen to a thing I say?" Have you ever felt like you were talking to the wall? There are some things that you can do that will improve your partner's willingness to "hear" you:

First, words may not break your bones, but they most certainly can break your heart. Carefully consider the kinds of words you use in your relationship. Have you ever said anything hurtful to your partner? Has your partner ever said anything to you that wounded you to the core?

Avoid Sarcasm

Rude, cutting remarks, sometimes disguised as humor, may pass our lips and land on our partner. Sitcom sarcasm should not be the model for your communication. The origin of the word sarcasm goes back to the Greek phrase, "to cut flesh." The dictionary describes sarcasm as "a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain." When we use sarcasm, we make it painful for our partner to listen to us.

Humor is a wonderful part of any great relationship. But the humor should never be at the expense of someone's feelings. It is only funny if both of you can laugh and enjoy it.

Be Honest and be Tactful

Sometimes people justify what they have said to their partner by saying, "I was just being honest." The truth is that when you say things to each other that hurt, it is often much less about being honest than it is about being spiteful or insensitive. If you love and care about each other, you will take into account each other's feelings before blurting out a "truth."

Honesty is an essential element in your relationship. Respect your partner enough to be honest with them, but you need to be intelligent and tactful as well as honest. Perhaps when put on the spot with a question like, "Does this make me look fat?" you could answer with something like, "The other outfit is much more flattering."

Use Sugar not Vinegar

Think about how easy it is to listen to critical, judgmental or unkind comments. The famous psychologist, B. F. Skinner demonstrated through experiments that it was easier to train animals by rewarding them for good behavior than by punishing them for bad behavior. Further studies have shown that the same applies to people.

At times partners may repeat the same negative messages so often that their partner learns to simply tune out that particular frequency. They in fact don't "hear it" anymore. We may think that if we point out our partner's mistakes frequently enough that we will motivate them to change. The reality is that complaining is one of the worst ways to motivate your partner to change. In fact what it really does is build resentment and encourage them to tune out.

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It is interesting that the answer to the question, how to talk so your partner will listen, starts out with a reminder. You have two ears and one mouth for a good reason. If you want your partner to listen to you, you should listen respectfully and carefully to them. Make sure that you understand what they are saying, before you expect them to listen in that same manner to you.

When you talk to your partner do so respectfully and whenever possible positively. Hearing what we are doing well is so much easier to listen to. Positive comments make much better motivators than negative comments.

Listening: Two Ears/One Mouth

Listening Do's and Don'ts

DO:

Encourage

  • Help your partner feel safe in sharing
  • Draw your partner out

Be Attentive

  • Your body language should say, "I am listening."
  • Use short verbal responses to show interest

Clarify

  • Ask questions if you are unsure of exactly what your partner means
  • Tell them what you are hearing and ask if you are understanding correctly
  • "It seems to me that you are feeling ________."
  • "Are you saying ________ ?" "Have I understood you correctly?"

Validate

  • Acknowledge your partner's feelings
  • Validation does not mean that you have to agree, it just means seeing things from their perspective
  • "That must have been frustrating."

DON'T:

Advise

  • Keep the "why don't you" and "maybe you should" to yourself
  • Pay attention to what they are saying rather than thinking of what you should be saying

Assume

  • Don't assume you know how your partner is thinking or feeling
  • "What's really bothering you is ____."
  • "Your insecurities are showing."

Globalize

  • Avoid using global terms such as always and never
  • Stay specific to what is happening now

Judging

  • Avoid, "You are ______," types of statements
  • Avoid judging the process by saying things like, "Now we are getting somewhere."

Cheerleading

  • Avoid, "Don't worry, everything will be all right." types of statements
  • Avoid trying to pacify with statements like, "You did what anyone would do."