How to improve your relationship in four simple (not easy) steps

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You're doomed. It's February, Valentines Day is quickly upon us, and have you heard? There will be NO CONVERSATION HEARTS!!!  No "crazy 4 U!" or “Let’s Kiss” or “Hug Me.”

With America's main means of communication yanked out from under you, it's a really good time to try out some new techniques to broadcast your feelings to the one you love.

Relationships without effective communication (in candy form or other) create stress, tension and loneliness. 

Have you ever been in a room with someone you care about, tossing words at one another but never really feeling like you understand each other? 

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Speaking is more complicated than it seems. There is so much room for misunderstanding, which leads to estrangement rather than connection. There’s the speaker, the listener, and the message itself. There is no guarantee that the person receiving the message understands exactly what the speaker was intending. There are so many layers of communication that live beneath and around the words themselves. It’s really important to be aware of the biases that you bring both as a listener and a speaker, and come to understand how they might affect your relationship.

Here’s an example:

Pat: You left the mail on the hall table.

Chris: Yeah, so what? I have a lot going on and I didn't have time to sort it. You have no idea what my day was like.

Pat: Yeah? My day was pretty bad too! You're so self centered.

What's going on here? A miscommunication that has led to a rise in difficult emotions, and you can imagine how this conversation is destined to continue. How can this couple stop themselves from an all out explosion?

Defuse the situation by using strategies taken from non-violent communication, a framework by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD. He suggest four simple (not easy) steps:

  1. Observe: simply and without judgement or evaluation, you state what is bothering you. 

  2. Describe feelings: use feelings words to tell the other person what is going on inside of you.

  3. State needs: tell the other person what you need to help you feel better

  4. Make requests: provide a specific action step that the other person can take in the future. 

For Pat and Chris, imagine this as the next step: 

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Chris stops and remembers what they learned in couples counseling. He takes a deep breath and says, "You just brought up that I left the mail on the table (observation), and I felt overwhelmed and upset after everything that went on today (describing a feeling). I need some quiet time (clear need) to shake off a difficult work day. I'd love to have 15 minutes to myself (clear request) before I get the mail.” Bam. Communication achieved.

Dr. Rosenberg does advise that these steps are simple but not easy. They take practice. For a calmer, easier relationship? Worth it.