you ever had a conversation with your partner suddenly derail like an
know that saying, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you
say it?” That is only partly accurate. It matters greatly what you
say as well.
many people are not taught how to have effective communication in your
relationships and are not educated and informed as to why it is so difficult in
the first place.
results in well-meaning couples spending years in conversational bad habits
that create disconnection and pain. There is a better way and it begins with
understanding the primary force in hurtful communication: Reactivity.
your brain is a structure called the amygdala. Its primary function is to
assess safety, the flight or fight response.
amygdala can be activated by numerous things including childhood wounding, past
relationships, the tone of what is being said, and the words spoken.
activated amygdala is doing its job, alerting you that your safety is
potentially threatened. However, it may often perceive danger.
this happens in relationships — when your reactivity is not managed — you
become fearful and defensive in order to protect yourself. This results in
disconnection and feeling unheard.
order to potentially increase the likelihood of your communication being
received, you need to practice some steps to help calm your reactivity.
are 4 easy effective communication skills that can make sure fear and
reactivity stop controlling you and your spouse during arguments:
“Sandwich” your complaints with something positive.
you want to express feedback to your partner, start with something positive
first. Too often a complaint is delivered in a way that has a reactive person
feeling like they “never” do anything right.
with a positive, add your concern/request, and end with another positive. This
strategy does not diminish your concern, nor is it “sugar-coating.”
much easier to hear what feels like criticism when you are able to receive
positivity as well.
Understand that your perception and the actual situation may be different
you express yourself creates energy. The energy of your opinion often conveys
criticism and certainty, rather than remembering that two people often don’t
see things the same way.
experience of something is subjective, and it’s an invitation to your partner
to understand your perspective.
saying, “You seem angry,” rather than assuming that your perception of
anger is correct and saying, “Why are you angry?”
try and frame the situation without expressing aggression by using “I”
statements instead of “you” statements.
you could say, “When that happened, I felt…” instead of, “You made me
Choose a time to talk that’s good for both of you.
this a good time to talk? You typically don’t pick a partner who is exactly
like you, and that includes readiness to talk about conflict.
with positive topics, it’s important to ask if it is a good time to talk. This
request is designed for creating a presence to be heard, and preparedness to be
able to do so.
not talk if you are in a reactive state; nothing positive will occur.
Mirror/repeat back what you heard.
you repeat back what you heard, by beginning with, “What I heard you say is…”
the process allows the speaker to be heard, and it calms the listener’s reactivity.
addition, when you mirror what is said by the speaker, it helps decrease
personalizing what they’re saying. Mirroring is a powerful tool to manage
reactivity and promote connection.
that reactivity is not the problem: It’s your brain doing its job. Not managing
reactivity more effectively is the problem.
goal of relationship coaching is not to never be upset. As
great as that sounds, that is impossible. The goal is to derail less often,
less painfully, and raise your awareness about what triggers you so you can get
back on track and weather the communication storm more effectively.
tools will enhance your relationship and create more safety for healthier
communication between you and your spouse.
Kamen, LMSW, CIRT, SILC, is a certified Imago relationship therapist. She is
the vice president of Imago Michigan and a Robbins-Madanes strategic
intervention life coach. She helps people get out of their own way to create
the life and relationships they desire. You can find her podcast Grow Your Guru
on iTunes and connect
with her on her website here.