BY SHANTI DOUGLAS
Communication is the foundation of any healthy relation-ship, but it’s often the hardest thing for couples to do. Busy-ness and going in multiple directions distract us, and we fear that conﬂict is inherent in communication. Given the importance and challenge of maintaining healthy, respectful communication, it’s a miracle that it ever occurs, and that a little more than 50 percent of marriages survive.
Since we’re not really taught how to effectively communicate in loving relationships, I asked one successful couple I know, Mike and Fran, about how they communicate. They’re in their midthirties, have a growing family of three, and have known each other since high school. I asked, “What’s your secret relationship sauce?” and “How do you keep it all together between family, home, work, and the community activities you support?”
It was pretty easy for Mike and Fran to answer. They are committed to mindful communication, purposeful connection, deep listening, offering gratitude, and a desire to understand each other. They also frequently stop to check in beyond the household duties and activities to support one another on an emotional level.
Knowing that each day is different, they take the view-point of curiosity versus assumption. Here are some guide-lines they offered for healthy partner communicationSet up a regular day and time (or even a time every day) when you won’t be interrupted or feel rushed. No kids or cell phones. Bring some ﬂowers, a candle, or something beautiful to the setting to create a space that’s warm and inviting. Then spend a few quiet minutes just being together, letting the day go and breathing to settle into the moment. Holding hands or touching is wonderful.
Then, each person takes a turn having uninterrupted time for the following:
The Sharer shares two or three things they appreciate and are grateful for about the other. These can be remembrances of things they did or said that were positive and nurturing. The Receiver receives these gifts of appreciation.
The Sharer shares one thing that did not feel as nurturing—perhaps an unthoughtful remark, action, or temperament. While we can often let the little things go, sometimes they fester in the background. Reconciling them with understanding helps us to fully let them go. With this sharing, it’s important to communicate in a way that doesn’t instigate blame or wrongness. You can do this by using I statements. “I felt unappreciated when your dirty clothes were all over the bedroom ﬂoor after I spent three hours cleaning the house.” This is different than “You’re such a slob!” The Receiver listens deeply to the Sharer without defensiveness or reactivity, and with a desire to under-stand the other’s perspective.
The Sharer then requests support to relieve the pain or resentment. “It would really help me if you could put the dirty clothes in the hamper so we can enjoy a clean house together. I know you want to honor my efforts and this would help me greatly.”
With a calm body and mind, the Receiver expresses gratitude for the open sharing and curiosity if they need to learn more, as well as any insights and what they can offer for support in the way of correction and understanding.
When the sharing is complete, the Sharer expresses a few words of gratitude before switching roles.
Mike and Fran agree that this method of communication was not easy in the beginning, but once they made a trusting connection, slights and misunderstandings became a lot less intense. They feel truly supported in their partnership. Time and energy well spent, on a regular basis, have enabled their relationship to thrive.