Monthly Archives: November 2016

Some Qualities of Great Communicators

There are many books and articles that teach intimate partners the art of effective communication. Some couples do improve their ability to trust each other more deeply by practicing the exercises within them. But, in most cases, their efforts have only been minimally effective. Despite sincere efforts to master these techniques, intimate partners still too often continue misunderstanding and misconstruing what they say and hear.

In the four decades I’ve been treating couples, I’ve continually searched for the answers as to why so many people continue to have such difficulty when so much excellent guidance is available. What could possibly have been overlooked? What techniques or advice might be missing that could help intimate partners be more successful in communicating more effectively?

I decided to focus on the few fortunate couples I’ve worked with who, no matter what the problems they were working on in therapy, seemed to have no trouble deeply connecting with each other. These intimate partners had clearly mastered a way of communicating that made both feel supported and understood regardless of the difficulty of the subject matter.

I compared their attitudes and behaviors with those who were less successful and, from those experiences, have come to understand the ten crucial qualities that these successful communicators continually demonstrate.

The Ten Qualities of Great Communicators

1. No Conversation Stoppers

There are eight conversational responses that are highly likely to stop your partner from continuing to share his or her more vulnerable thoughts and feelings. All of us have used these phrases and behaviors at times, often without realizing how badly they can make our partners feel.

Once you recognize them, you will hopefully not use them again. You can express these responses in effective ways at other times if your partner is interested, but never when your partner needs to be heard.

Minimizing – Making the problem seem trivial.

Taking the Other Person’s Side – Not supporting your partner’s experience.

Blaming – Criticizing your partner for feeling or acting the way he or she does.

Fixing – Offering to solve the situation without being asked.

Giving Unsolicited Advice – Telling your partner how to act or feel.

Shock – Expressing upset or outrage at what your partner is saying.

Holier than Thou – Don’t say how you could have handled the situation better.

Negativity – Keep impatience, irritation, sarcasm, or sounding burdened out of your response.

2. Full Support Independent of Agreement

Many people believe that if they support the way their partners think or feel that they will automatically have to agree with them. Support and agreement do not have to be the same response. Even if you don’t see things the same way, you can still be empathetic and understanding of how your speaker thinks and feels.

Too often listeners are so concerned that if they don’t immediately argue for a different point of view, that there will be no way for them to disagree later, so they preempt their partner’s conclusions to share how they may see the situation differently.

If you and your partner have agreed that emotional and psychological support do not automatically mean agreement, you are free to totally validate the thoughts and feelings of the other. Once your partner feels heard and understood, you can ask him or her if feedback is wanted.

3. Tracking

Your speaker will be far more likely to continue sharing if he or she feels that you are paying attention to all that’s been said. That not only includes the present, but anything that might also reference the past. Take notes, if it helps you to do that as you are listening.

Many times when speakers are emotionally distressed, they repeat themselves or skip logical sequencing. It is very helpful to them if you can help them stay on track. Caringly ask the kind of questions or make comments that help them put their ideas together. It’s like holding each important statement as an emotional puzzle piece, ever-ready to help your partner eventually see better how they can go together.

4. Presence

Anyone trying to share something painful or scary knows instantly if you are preoccupied or not really present. You’ll know if you are “drifting” because your answers will sound patronizing, impatient, or matter-of-fact. Your speaker will soon feel he or she is boring you and will automatically shorten the conversation or push harder to be heard.

It’s sometimes hard to stay focused listening to your partner, especially when he or she is angry, upset, or too repetitive. That’s even truer if the object of the distress is you. If you feel defensive at any point and you can’t be present anymore because of your own reactivity, ask for some time out to re-stabilize before you go on.

5. Rhythm

Good listeners get the cadence and urgency of their speaker’s communication style and present need. They don’t try to suppress emotions or change their rhythm or the way the words are being expressed. Some people get worked up as they get deeper into their emotions or change from one rhythm to another according to the subject they are unearthing.

If you can be flexible enough to flow with them at the same time as holding on to your own internal rhythm, you may be able to help them find a more comfortable pace that better enables both of you as close to the core truths as possible.

6. Emotional Anthropology

It is very tempting to impose one’s own thoughts and feelings on another person, especially when he or she is vulnerable or needy. When your partner is trying to explore a deeper thought or feeling, he or she may seem unsteady or in need of direction, and that can feel like an invitation to redirect.

At those times, it is particularly important to just stay authentically interested, curious about those reflections and conclusions, and wanting to truly understand how that person came to feel the way he or she does in that moment.

Anthropologists know how important it is to respect and support another culture, even if they don’t see the world in the same way. Every human being is a culture unto themselves and intimate partners need to remember that their partner’s view of reality must be viewed with the same sacredness.

7. Timing

Even good listeners can make the mistake of answering too quickly, saying too much, interrupting, or pulling away and shutting down too quickly. It can be very hard to stay on track and not push your own timing agenda when you are on the other end of an emotionally upset person or have your own priorities.

In any conversation, you are absolutely allowed to tell your partner that you are overwhelmed or beginning to feel defensive, especially if your own emotions do not allow you to stay in the moment. You cannot continue to be a good listener when you’re impatient, and it’s always better to reconnect when you can be authentically present. If you do have to disconnect, make a time soon when you can continue so your partner doesn’t feel abandoned.

8. Non-judgmental Feedback

When your partner feels safe, heard, and ready, you can offer non-judgmental feedback after asking if he or she is ready to listen to it. Using any notes you have taken, share your summary of what you thought was said, what your partner seemed to have needed, and where you agree or see things differently. Even if your experience is not positive, you can still deliver your feelings in a caring way.

Tell your partner how you feel about what you heard and what your responses are. Ask for feedback as to how you were as a listener and any differences he or she might have wished for. Where were you accurate and where might you have misunderstood? Did your partner feel cared for, understood, and supported, and in what ways? Does he or she have any good feedback for you?

9. Patience

Patience is not just “waiting.” Patience is being so involved that you don’t notice the passage of time. When you are listening deeply to another, with no other thought than to be there doing what you are doing, you feel emotionally weightless and unconnected to the past or future. Your only desire is to be there fully for the one you love.

Emotional patience feels to the other like chivalry. There is no resentment, impatience, martyrdom, or boredom in the gift of listening as long and to whatever your partner needs from you at the time. You feel absolutely willing to put your own needs aside, and feeling honored to do so at the time.

This may seem idealistic, but most people sharing something vulnerable or painful know exactly what it feels like to be on the other end of someone who truly wants to listen. You may not be able to do it for long periods of time, but the rewards for the listener are as great as for the speaker.

10. Weaving

This capability is the true art of a great communicator. People in pain or trying to express negative or hurt feelings often cannot keep track of what they’ve said or make sense of their presentation while they are in that emotional state.

A great listener weaves statements of the past, relates them to the present, and takes them forward into the future. To do that, he or she must take cues from the past and combine them with what listener already knows about that person. Using a combination of emotional support, accurate listening, tracking, rhythm, presence, and care, an effective listener helps his or her partner to continue getting closer to the true message offered.

Weaving helps a person remember his or her past and how it is affecting the present. It also helps point out repetitive patterns that have not yielded good results, and makes them less likely to continue into the future. It is crucial that weaving is not done in a way that makes the sharing partner feel trapped or labeled, just known more deeply as to whom he or she behaves in the relationship.

Having Boyfriend Who Much Older

Dear Bridestory,

After a series of bad boyfriends, I have finally met a man who makes me happy. He’s everything I’ve wanted to have in a serious relationship. The problem is he’s older, much older than me. Since he and I got together, I’ve received weird looks from my family and friends. Am I really crazy for doing this? What are the potential problems I will face by being in a relationship with someone who is from an older generation? – YoungGirlfriend

Dear YoungGirlfriend,

First of all, thank you for sharing. Although you’ve gotten your share of “jokes” when it comes to your relationship, we believe that the significant age gap does not make your relationship any less meaningful that those who are close in age. Even though yours maybe somewhat uncommon by society’s standards, it is still just as special. To understand that your relationship is “special” is to also know the challenges that you may face, that people whose partners are close in age do not. To navigate through a new relationship is already tough as it is, and when you add in the possibility of a generation gap, yours can become even more challenging. However, looking on the bright side – a significant age difference can give you the chance to consider new perspectives and to appreciate the offerings of a different generation.

We think the first thing you need to ask yourself is this: Why are you doing this?

Take a look at your motivation and understand why you want to enter a relationship with someone who is much older than you. Love knows no age, we believe that. But if you’re always attracted to someone who is part of an older generation, you might want to look at the underlying reason. A significant age difference doesn’t always mean that there’s something wrong, but to examine yourself is always worth the effort and to understand your motivation will benefit you in the long run, especially when it comes to establishing commitment.

The second question you need to ask yourself is: Are you ready to handle the generational differences?

It takes a thousand similarities to bring a couple together and takes only one difference to break them up. No matter how understanding you are and how much tolerance you have for each other, you are bound to find some difference, especially those the come as a result to the generation gap. Not only might you have different political views, you might also find each other’s interests boring and you might not understand each other’s tastes in music. The key is not about discovering them, but rather in overcoming them. You can bridge the differences by learning more about each other and to make the effort to understand each other’s point of views.

The third and last question you need to ask yourself is: Are you ready to handle the criticisms?

It’s true that you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself when it comes to choosing the person you want to give your heart to. However, we are all social beings who live in a society with other people who might disagree with our choices in romantic partners, no matter how perfect our relationship will be. With your close friends and family, this might mean taking the time and making the effort to explain why you are in love with this person. You need to consciously and continuously bring the spotlight on your partner’s personality and not on his age. You also need to be prepared for snide comments and inconsiderate remarks. To continuously get into arguments about your choice in romantic partners won’t be good for anyone, so have a simple yet polite response to the criticisms that may come your way.

When you have answered these questions and have found the confidence in your relationship, understand that age is one of the (many) difference you may have as a couple. Learn about each other and deal with your differences. At the end of the day, your commitment to the relationship is what matters. Make sure that your commitment is bigger than your differences.

How If Your Friend Have An Affair

I need help on how to handle a situation my friend is in. She has been seeing this guy who is already married and has kids with his wife. I have tried to warn her from the beginning but she didn’t listen to any of my advice. Now the affair she is in is getting deeper and deeper – I can tell she is falling in love with him. What should I do as her friend? Should I tell her I won’t be her friend anymore if she keeps on doing this or should I just let her be? I’m confused!” – HelplessFriend

Dear HelplessFriend,

First of all, seeing a friend in a sticky situation is never easy to deal with. And in your case, the situation is even more of a messy one as it involves other people besides your friend. Regarding your confusion about whether or not you should threaten to end the friendship unless she ends the affair, the best thing to do is to avoid doing that. Because at the end of the day, your friendship must remain untouched because what your friend is doing affects her personally and it should not affect you. If you were to cut off your friendship with her for something that your friend has done to herself then it would not do any good. It seems that the only thing that would do is cause more pain where it isn’t necessary.

Furthermore, when it comes to simply letting your friend be, this should only be done after you have given her a reality check. As a friend, your only responsibility is to give your honest opinion with the intention of helping her in any way you can. This means that you should tell it like it is when you are talking to her about the affair. Let her know that she is not only putting herself at risk of getting hurt, but she is also putting the man, his wife and his children at risk of getting hurt. Let her know frankly that being romantically involved with a married man is only going to end in tears and the longer she keeps this up, the more hurt she will feel later on. You need to tell it like it is because it is your job to do so – not because you want to cause her pain or make her feel scared but it’s simply to show her what she may not be able to see for herself.

Aside from giving your friend the reality check, try your best to not entertain or make a big deal about her affair when you see her. This means that all you have to say to her is that she is doing something that is clearly wrong and that she will get her hurt. That’s all. Aside from that, it helps if you do not ask her anything about the affair or show that you are disinterested in the subject. Because what this will do is show her that you will not condone or pay any attention to that part of her world because it is simply something you are against. The more you give her attention, ask lots of questions, be mad or constantly tell her to not do it, the more she will be tempted to keep doing it. People always want to do things they are not allowed to do. The more you tell her “don’t” the more appealing the affair will be. So, simply say these two things, “You are in the wrong” and “You will get hurt”, anything else should not be of your concern.