In one ear, out the other. The challenges of effective communication are destroying our relationships. Recently on the Dating and Relationships show, I brought in Family and Relationship counselling expert Lauren Millman to discuss the ins and outs of effective communication in relationships.
The divorce rate is climbing in Canada with 4 in 10 marriages ending in divorce. If you thought cheating is the number one cause of breakups, you’ll be surprised to know it’s not an impulsive act like this that ends it all. The main cause of divorce is the long and gruelling challenges of effective communication in our relationships. I wanted to talk with Lauren about how to overcome these challenges and salvage relationships that have been set back by constant fighting, miscommunication, lack of communication and how to use different communication styles with a partner.
Are You Using Effective Communication?
No matter how wonderful your love story is, arguments big or small are going to happen at some point. I asked Lauren, ‘is it healthy to argue in relationships?’ She says ‘absolutely’! Arguing is very healthy in a relationship, it allows your partner to know your thoughts, feeling and opinions, it can make you feel better, and if done correctly it can bring you closer to your partner. She sees is as an issue if there isn’t arguing in a relationship. A lack of effective communication through disputes shows complacency, and we all know that what isn’t said may speak more volumes than what is.
So how do we argue correctly, with purpose but respect? We can’t get into an argument just to battle each other. This will never settle an argument and nobody will gain anything. There has to be a mutual understanding that what’s being said needs to be heard and if the topic you are arguing about is important enough, couples need to make a commitment to remain calm. You can stay calm in an argument by remembering that you and your partner both need acknowledgment and validation to come to an understanding or agreement. Acknowledgement of “I understand that makes you upset” shows you are really hearing what they are saying. Validation does not necessarily mean agreeing, but a statement such as “I know you’re anxious that I was late and didn’t call. I think I would be anxious too” shows empathy, understanding and validation of their feelings – rather than getting defensive. Acknowledgement and validation propels an argument into a conversation so both people feel heard.
We may think we know our partners and ourselves pretty well. However, there are many different effective communication styles and you may only be utilizing one or two. Maybe your communication styles are very similar to each other’s, maybe they clash – Lauren gave us a run down of the 5 different communication styles and their characteristics. First is the assertive style. This is considered the most respectful style since you express your feelings, needs and ideas without violating those of others. There is a lot of give, but also a lot of take. Alternatively there is the aggressive style. This style takes no one else’s feelings into consideration and emphasizes a ‘my way or the highway’ type of mentality. Following this is the manipulative style. This style doesn’t accomplish much of anything since this person will be sarcastic, patronising, sneaky, controlling and passive-aggressive. It is very hard to communicate with this person because you are always wondering if you can trust what they are doing or saying. On the other end of the spectrum are the passive and submissive styles. These are exactly what they sound like where the person will not speak up about much of anything, be apologetic and always avoiding confrontation.
Both Lauren and I wrote about ‘love languages’ in our relationship books and they’re a critical part of effective communication in relationships! The love languages are meant to identify what your partner responds to best so you can better express your love for them. The 5 love languages are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, physical touch and quality time. The love languages highlight that other than speaking, there are ways to communicate with your partner. Once you understand your partner’s love language you will know that if the going gets rough what they need is a hug, or time, or space or even receiving a small token of your love for them to smooth things out again.
Communication is key in keeping your relationship healthy and happy. Lauren and I agreed upon ‘the grass is not always greener on the other side’. So, even when arguments are getting out of control or far too frequent, try watering your grass with effective communication to strengthen what once was a beautiful relationship. To listen to more of our talk on the topic effective communication in relationships visit the Dating and Relationships show on AM640.