We all want to communicate effectively with the people we love; in particular, with our partners/spouses, and family members. After all, we do it quite well with our neighbors, a gym acquaintance, friends, co-workers, and typically total strangers. Yet, despite our best intentions, we are often frustrated by a conversation we had with our partner/spouse, our child, a parent, a sibling, later reflecting how we were incapable of using those same communication tools. We have expectations of our family, often taking them for granted, thus consequently we easily lose sight of communicating consciously, intentionally, and respectfully.

With our children, we might give unsolicited advice, trying to manage, to direct, while attempting to “fix” any difficult, painful emotions. As mentioned last week, it is extremely challenging to witness our child struggling and to remain present while he processes his feelings. His problem becomes our problem, therefore we want to take over finding the solution. What rightfully belongs to him — his feelings — we quickly assume possession of and then move into “fixing mode.” Perhaps it triggers a sensitive reminder of something in our own childhood, or we may simply be too stressed, rushed, not willing to take the time and energy required to sit with our child’s pain. We need to let our child know he has a right to his feelings, that we can listen to them, whether positive or negative. When we respect and support his need to be heard and understood, without judgment or criticism, he is then better able to navigate through his emotions to reach his own solutions.

It’s somewhat different, although certainly no less important, to do the same with other family members, especially with our partner/spouse. We don’t need to agree with her/his perspective, but we do need to show respect and support in listening without judging or blaming. What’s most important in being heard initially in any partnership is to clearly identify and articulate what we want and need. That also requires, in turn, some reciprocity — listening well and generously responding with kindness, compassion, and an open heart. If we assume our wants and needs won’t be heard, we will unconsciously posture, either compromising our position or arming ourselves for battle. Relationships will fade if we’re determined to win while ensuring our partner loses, trying to prove our “rightness.”

If our goal is to create true intimacy in our primary relationships, we undoubtedly need to give up some of what we want to gain something else. We need to establish limits for accepting our partner’s behavior, while helping him/her succeed. Part of this important communication dynamic is also advocating for ourselves, as well as supporting our partner to be his/her best self. When it’s our turn to listen, we must truly listen without interrupting, focusing on our partner without thinking or speaking any rebuttals, concerns, judgments. Instead of reacting contentiously, we need to respond with interest, listening to understand. Make requests rather than complaints, turning the focus on what we want rather than what we consider our partner is doing wrong or not doing at all. Rather than criticize — ask!

There are indeed complex communication factors between men and women. Women are more inclined to check in with their partners while processing their emotions, as well as in making decisions. However, men generally make decisions without checking in with their partners. Neither is right or wrong; it’s simply different, in that most women expect decisions to be made by consensus, with men less likely to engage the same way. As a linguistics professor pointed out: “Many men feel oppressed by lengthy discussions about what they see as minor decisions, and they feel hemmed in if they can’t just act without talking first. Communication is a continual balancing act, juggling the conflicting needs for intimacy and independence.”

Men typically want to solve the problems women are presenting, without a lengthy discussion. Working at understanding the differences, while being intentional in using connective communication skills, certainly helps to dismantle roadblocks, maintaining a healthy connection between partners/spouses. Without deliberately addressing this, we compromise communication, with misunderstandings increasing distance in our relationships.Unfortunately, we are less inclined to provide the time and care necessary to our most important relationships, excusing our behavior and lack of attention because we are too busy, too stressed, having too many other responsibilities and distractions. If our relationship fails or, at the very least, doesn’t meet our needs, perhaps we should look at what we’re doing that isn’t working, or what changes we need to make in leading with agreement, with a more open, generous heart. Consider starting with the basics: listening to what’s at the root of the problem to clarify understanding; responding rather than reacting; owning responsibility for our feelings and communicating them openly and calmly; clearly stating what we need. After all, what could be a more important investment in ourselves and in our most cherished relationships?

Please send me your quesitons.