Communication. That’s a tough one to learn in relationships. Rather, let me clarify—learning how to communicate in a healthy way is tough to learn. Communication, or lack thereof, can make or break a marriage or relationship. Learning to communicate with my husband, and he with me, in a positive, mutually beneficial way is often a challenge. We have different communication styles, and we frequently butt heads, but, thank God, we have learned what works and what does not.
Here are some things to consider about the way you communicate:
- Are you more interested in winning the argument, or in being proven “right,” than you are in resolving the conflict? When we are more concerned with winning an argument, we are more likely to fight dirty and rely on tactics that are manipulative and unfair. Maybe you are right, but what is more important– being right or having a good relationship and finding ways to resolve a conflict in a manner that is beneficial for both parties?
- Do you always have to have the last word? If so, why? Is it part of winning the argument? Why not just let the issue go? Sometimes it’s better to bite your tongue than it is to respond. Some people like to have the last word because of their pride. That’s it plain and simple. They would rather keep the conflict stirred up than find peace and a resolution. They may use the last word to insult, accuse, or take some sort of parting jab at the other person. It takes an enormous amount of self-control to refrain from having to have the last word. It takes maturity and a willingness to consider if what you want to say will help or hurt the situation and if it will build up or tear down the other person. A wise person knows when to hold his tongue, but a foolish person likes to keep talking.
- Avoid using qualifiers like always, never, every time, all the time, etc. Simply rephrase what you want to say. Instead of using one of those words, use something that is more indicative of reality, such as often, rarely, seldom, frequently, etc. Using qualifiers puts the other person on defensive. Think about it. Does that person really ALWAYS do X? Does that person honestly NEVER do Y? What is your first response when someone accuses you of ALWAYS doing something? Isn’t your response something like, “I do not always do that…”? If you don’t want others to use qualifiers when talking about you, give them the same courtesy.
- Do not play the “tit-for-tat” game. For those of you who are not familiar with that phrase, it is when someone says you do X, and then you come back with, “Well, you do Y,” and bring up irrelevant or petty things, or even dredge up something that was already supposed to be settled; in many cases, it was supposedly settled years or months ago. Focus on the current issue and take responsibility for your part of the situation at that moment.
- Give each other the benefit of the doubt. You and your spouse will hurt each other’s feelings; that’s an inevitability. However, if your spouse says something that hurts your feelings, don’t automatically assume he meant to hurt you. Give him the benefit of the doubt. When you feel ready to address it, let him know he hurt your feelings and why. Sometimes we say things in the wrong way and it comes across as insensitive or insulting when that was not the intention. How many times have you been frustrated or sick or rushed and responded in a way that came across as mean or insensitive or harsh, but that wasn’t how you meant it? I love my husband; however, I sometimes say things in a manner that is harsh because I’m frustrated, but I’m not using a harsh tone with the intention of hurting his feelings. He gives me the benefit of the doubt and I do the same for him. I’m NOT saying you should overlook negative patterns of communication or ignore hurtful things. Those things should be addressed, but you need to be careful how to address them.
- Do not be disrespectful or scornful in your communication. How many times have you responded with “Whatever!” in a sarcastic tone? I have many times, and I have apologized for it. I get that it can be frustrating when you feel like that person does not understand what you are saying or when that person disagrees with you, but always try to respond in a respectful, courteous manner. The Golden Rule of do to others what you would have them do to you applies to communication, too. If you want others to talk to you with respect and courtesy, talk to them in the same manner.
- Don’t disregard or shrug off what someone says because you disagree or don’t like what he is saying. Avoid using phrases like, “Blah, blah, blah” or “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Those phrases are not only disrespectful, they also demonstrate a great deal of immaturity. The other person is just as entitled to his/her opinion as you are to yours. You do not have to agree or like what the other person says to respond maturely and respectfully.
- Fight clean. Avoid accusations, insults, sarcasm, name-calling, and saying things you know will put the other person on the defensive. If you would not want someone to say that to you or to say something to you in the way you are saying it, then give that person the same respect and courtesy you desire from him. Own your feelings and clearly, but respectfully, let the other person know how his/her actions or words affected you. You might want to say something like “Your actions (words) really hurt me” and then calmly explain why. Or politely express that you disagree and why you disagree without calling the other person names or hurling accusations or insults.
- It’s okay to disagree; in fact, you won’t find anyone who will agree with you 100 percent of the time. The key is learning how to work through disagreements and accepting someone’s disagreement simply as that—disagreement—instead of assuming the person has malevolent or evil motives or taking the disagreement as some sort of personal insult or attack against you.
- Understand that there is a difference between making excuses and offering an explanation. An excuse, however, is not always negative and is not necessarily about the person trying to get out of taking responsibility for his/her actions. Some excuses are legitimate. You miss work because you are sick, and you must give your employer a doctor’s excuse. It is not okay, though, for someone to excuse hurtful behavior or bad choices by refusing to accept responsibility. Trying to figure out the cause of something or offering an explanation should not be confused with the negative connotation of making an excuse.
The way you communicate with others says a lot more about you than you realize. If you always assign blame to the other person, accuse others, insult others, etc., then you need to learn more effective and healthy communication skills or you will never have a satisfying relationship. Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who consistently fights dirty? I know it is easy to speak out of hurt and other emotions, but one sign of maturity is avoiding doing those things. Speaking out of emotion is rarely wise; it often leads to more conflict. I have learned (am still learning) to go off by myself for a while if I need to calm down and get some perspective. I’ve also learned (along with my husband) that there are certain times of the month when I should avoid talking about heavy subjects because it will almost always lead to an argument. I’ve learned that when I am irritable, tired, or sick, I also need to avoid certain topics or even certain people or situations.
You have to be on guard and take the necessary steps to avoid heading into an argument with others. Sometimes all it takes to be able to resolve a conflict in a mutually beneficial way is to wait until you have had some time to think about things and get yourself under control before talking about it. Sometimes, walking away from a person or from a situation is necessary, too; this is especially true for dealing with people who just like to argue. Walk away…You don’t have to say anything. Just walk away. When that person is ready to talk to you in a calm, courteous, respectful way, then, and only then, should you talk to them. If they start in with what I call drama or they start fighting dirty, then walk away. It takes two people to argue. I’m not saying it’s easy to do these things, but it is worthwhile for the sake of your emotional health.
I do not claim to always do these 10 things, but I do try. I’m learning how to better communicate with my husband, and he is learning how to communicate with me more effectively, and our relationship is reaping the benefits of it. So, I’m just challenging you to check yourself. If any of these tips helps you avoid an argument, isn’t it worth it? Wouldn’t you rather have peace with that person instead of there being drama and needless hostility or antagonism? You cannot control what the other person says or does, but you always have control over what you say and do; so, just work on yourself. If you are anything like me, that is enough work for a lifetime!