I always thought I was a great communicator. After all, I had been the MVP of my debate team in high school and an editor at the student newspaper in college. Then, I started covering love and relationships as a reporter and realized I knew pretty much nothing about one-on-one talking, the kind you need to make your personal relationships work. In the many years I covered relationships for publications and Websites, such as Ladies’ Home Journal, About.com and iVillage, I learned a lot about building communication skills. And I’m still learning. We all are.
For starters, however, I recognized that communication is the foundation of any committed relationship – romantic, professional, parental, friendship, all of them. As a result, we should all have great motivation to get it right. Here is the best advice I have received from the professionals over the years:
- Walk away from a fight. An argument – when both of you are sharing your opinions and seeking resolution – is healthy. A fight – when both of you are losing your tempers and talking over one another – is not. Back in the day, my conversations with my then boyfriend (now my husband) Antonio would escalate to a fight. I was insecure and believed we should talk everything out right then and there. He would get furious and give me the cold shoulder, and I would insist on continuing to talk. I have learned to go for a walk to cool off. Sometimes, we might even put off the argument for a few days after its initial start. We eventually get to the matter, and we avoid saying stuff we don’t mean. Since this has become the pattern with us, I no longer feel like we’re going to break up if we don’t sit and work out an agreement in the very moment that we’re boiling. This also has taught me that the age-old advice about not going to bed angry is horse feathers. Ignore it. Taking a time out helps you keep from losing your temper, which aids in the build up of resentment.
- Become a better listener. I always associated communication with what I had to say. I thought improving communication was learning how to better explain myself to others. I only had it half right. A big part of being a great communicator is listening – really listening – to people. That means shutting your pie hole and paying attention. What many experts have told me is to repeat what my husband says and have him confirm that I understood. You’d be amazed at how many times I repeat something exactly as I remember it from a few seconds earlier and get it wrong. But since I’ve become aware of this, I have been training my ear to listen and my mouth to stay zipped. Slowly, I’m becoming a better listener, which helps my relationships and not just my marriage.
- Stay connected. This is one of those tips that is really just for your family members, especially your spouse or romantic partner. As you are having disagreements and the tension rises, you should continue looking in your spouse’s eyes. You should also put a gentle hand on his or her shoulder. One expert suggested couples hold hands during arguments. They say it’s a way to keep you grounded and feeling close to your spouse, even if you disagree. My husband has sometimes been turned off by this. When he’s angry, he’s not always thrilled with me touching him or even being near him. He asks for space. Yet, sometimes an impromptu hug in the middle of an argument, however, can defuse the intense situation. I always suggest using common sense and being respectful of your spouse’s feelings. If your spouse is not open to touching or staying connected in that moment, then implement the walk away rule previously mentioned. When you return after you’ve both had a chance to reflect and calm down, go in for that hug. It could be the difference between boiling in rage and simmering in love.