By Suzanne E. Harrill
Who among us doesnít need a reminder here
and there on how to live peacefully in our families, and
specifically in our primary love relationships? I know my weak
points when it comes to good communication ─ I donít
listen well when my partner is expressing something I donít
want to hear, I am good at finishing sentences, and have been
known to interrupt. Recently, when I picked up a copy of my
book, Inner Fitness for Creating a Better You; I
landed on page 49. It gives guidelines for resolving conflict
and fighting fairly. I thought to myself, "This is a great
reminder to help me grow in my communication skills." Here
are the eight points as a reminder for you, the reader, too.
1. Stick to the subject. Discuss one
topic at a time. Do not confuse issues. If your partner attempts
to change the subject, simply say, "Thatís important, but
let's finish this first." (It goes without saying that you
monitor yourself, too) Completing a discussion on one topic
produces feelings of satisfaction and closure.
2. Deal with feelings. If you or your
partner gets emotional, express feelings before even trying to
problem-solve. Effective communication gets to the bottom of
issues that may look insignificant on the surface, so it is
necessary to move beyond the content level of the conversation
where the focus is only on the words spoken. It is at the
feeling level where the real messages hide. Recognize that
strong emotional reactions are a clue that something is going on
beneath the surface. Anger, for example, may be covering up
other primary emotions; like, shame, rejection, fear,
embarrassment, abandonment, or feeling controlled or "taken
advantage of." Be a detective and ask yourself and your
partner questions, such as, "Whatís really going on? What
are you feeling? Whatís this bringing up from the past? What
do you need that you are not getting?"
3. Take turns listening and expressing. Good
communication requires that partners express themselves honestly
and openly. Each has a point of view that requires respect. Hear
what the other partner is saying even if you do not agree. When
one person is talking, the other keeps quiet and listens without
4. Stay in the present. Express what you
are thinking and feeling right now, even if the event you are
talking about happened in the past or will take place in the
5. Speak from your own experience. No two
people experience an incident the same way. Do not expect your
partner to know what you think and feel. You are unique. You
have your own history, conditioning, perceptions and beliefs.
Take responsibility for yourself by using statements, such as,
"I believe..., As I see it..., I feel..., In my opinion...,
My experience is..."
6. Use empathic, active listening. Listen
between the lines and look for meaning beyond the spoken words.
When your partner is talking, show caring and respect by making
eye contact, facing your partner, nodding your head, or saying
things like, "Yes, I understand," or "I donít
understand, tell me more." Repeat what you heard. Use a
supportive tone of voice.
7. Attack the problem, not the person. Avoid
unkind personal comments, criticisms, or name calling. Agreeing
with everything your partner says is not necessary, but hearing
her/his side of an issue is. Respect your partner, even when you
don't like what s/he says, thinks, or feels.
8. Find win-win solutions. After you and
your partner have thoroughly discussed an issue, take time to
look for creative solutions that are agreeable to both of you.
Compromise is necessary sometimes, as is letting your
partnerís needs have a higher priority than yours at times.
Honor your partner and do not attempt to dominate the solution
process. It takes two to win.
If you are the instigator to improve
communication in your relationship, you might take some time to
get clear on your issues, how you feel, what you want, etc. I do
this in two ways. One, I go for a walk and have a serious
"think" with myself. (The older I get this method
works to help me clarify why I am upset and what I need to
express to my partner.) Two, I start writing in my journal,
allowing upsets and frustrations to flow on the page. (This
method I used a lot when I was younger when I did not know
myself as well. I use this method today when I am really upset
and not understanding what is bothering me.) At this point I may
not be objective and am simply getting my thoughts and feelings
out privately. Sometimes I need to sit on it a day or so to let
more information come forward or to review what I have written
to see what my true messages are. This helps me gain clarity
with my own issues and the results I would like to work towards
when I open communication with my partner. When ready, I ask my
partner if we can talk. I remember to reread the guidelines for
resolving conflict and fighting fairly. Why? Because I am
usually the instigator in opening communication when
experiencing conflict with my husband and I want to grow in my
personal skills and awareness.