I Hear What You're Saying
Learning to Communicate in Relationships
Chris Moisenco, M.A.
Valentine's Day is promoted as the day to let our loved ones know how we feel. Cards, flowers and candy have become symbols to express our love. But what about the other 364 days of the year?
There have been countless relationship-oriented articles written that have often focused on thoughtful things to do, like giving spontaneous gifts, offering back rubs, etc. But having a healthy, long-lasting relationship does require skills that, with some practice, can become a normal and regular part of your interactions. To endure challenging times of stress and hardship and to adjust to changes in the relationship, you need to work together. Working together requires being able to express yourself and to hear and understand your partner. As they say, communication is the key.
You have feelings about something your loved one has said or done. How do you let them know? The most effective way is to communicate what you're feeling. Not saying anything and later "forgetting" to do something you promised to do or sulking when you see them, might alert your loved one that something is wrong, but most likely they won't know what is wrong. If you don't express how you feel, you deny yourself the opportunity to have your feelings understood and your partner the opportunity to address the problem and make any changes. The way you express yourself is vital. It is important that you express your feelings, and not launch an attack or make accusations. We all tend to get defensive when feeling attacked and will focus on protecting ourselves rather than hearing what someone has to say. Try expressing yourself with "I" statements such as "I felt hurt when you didn't invite me to go along yesterday." ("I think you're a jerk" is not a good example of an effective "I" statement.)
Timing. Timing. Timing.
It is very important that you choose a time to talk that will best facilitate being heard. It's probably a good idea to allow some time to cool off if whatever has happened has made you pretty angry. There are, of course, some things that need to be addressed in the moment, but use your judgement. A calm approach at a time when your loved one is not preoccupied will give you the best chances of being heard and responded to. As hard as it is to focus on anything but how hurt or angry you are, try to remember the real point, which is to let your partner know how you feel so they can understand and strive to prevent the situation in the future.
Be a Good Listener.
The other side of expressing yourself is to hear and understand what someone is trying to get across. It is important to be patient and allow your partner to finish what they are saying. An effective response to "I felt hurt when you didn't invite me to go along with you" might be "I'm realizing now that you felt hurt. I didn't know it was so important to you. I'm sorry I didn't understand." It isn't always necessary to promise something like "Next time I'll ask you to come along." It may not be appropriate at the time. What is important is that you validate your partner's feelings and let them know you understand. It is also important to let your partner know right away if it isn't a good time for you to talk -- but then make sure to agree on a time that would be better.
Remember... If you feel confident that you are in a loving relationship and are both committed to working through whatever problems arise, then remind yourself of this when you're feeling hurt or angry and when your partner is telling you how they feel. This will help prevent you from overreacting or being too defensive to hear what they're saying.
Also, remember that there is help available if you're feeling stuck. Counseling Services, located at 140 Daugette Hall, provides free counseling to JSU students and can help with relationship issues and other problems. Call 256-782-5475 for more information or to schedule an appointment.