Welcome to week 5 of the 6 week relationship challenge! This week is COMMUNICATION!
Over the past year or so, Bassam and I have made a concentrated effort to improve our communication. We are really different people in so many ways and that includes the way we communicate with each other. Before we really started working on this, we were noticing that we would have small misunderstandings that would blow up to be giant fights because we weren’t communicating in an effective way with each other. Learning to improve our communication has helped us talk through some really tough and sensitive topics and start to understand where the other person is coming from rather than just get really frustrated with each other.
We truly believe that one of the most important things in a relationship is effective communication. We’ve noticed that for us and the couples we know, almost all relationship issues stem from lack of communication. Not being able to communicate effectively with each other can lead to built up resentment, misunderstandings, and overall unhappiness. We are big advocates of learning to be open and honest with each other and finding a way to communicate with each other that works best for you.
This is a big area and not something that be quickly improved with one simple challenge. We are planning to release a more in depth communication challenge in the future. For this week’s challenge, take an honest and critical look at where you and your partner are at with your communication. Choose an action step to work on that will help you make progress towards better communication. Like everything in a relationship, communication is something that is a journey and will take lots of hard work and repeated efforts. Anything you try this week will lead to improved communication in the future, even if you don’t see the results right away.
This week we challenge you to:
DO ONE THING TO IMPROVE YOUR COMMUNICATION
Here are a few suggestions of things that have worked for us:
1. Try “Active Listening”
We’ve been doing something we call “active listening” when discussions get really heated and it has been a GAME CHANGER for our communication. It’s still something we have to work really really hard at and definitely doesn’t come easy at all, but it’s worth ALL the effort. Here are the steps:
Step 1: Figure out your why
Before even arguing with each other, first spend some time individually figuring out the WHY behind what you’re upset about. The majority of the time couples fight about surface level details and not the real WHY that lies underneath. This leads to repeating the same fight in the future, never feeling understood, and your partner not being able to understand why it all matters so much.
Try your best not to get stuck fighting about the details. For example, if you catch yourself fighting about why your partner never does the dishes, figure out the underlying WHY behind why that is upsetting you so much. Is it because you feel underappreciated? Is it because you feel overwhelmed? Almost always, that underlying why is an emotion, but we often don’t even immediately know what that emotion is.
Dig deep and continue to ask yourself, “but why does that bother me” “but, WHY”, until you can get to the real emotion behind it all. If you’re not used to self reflection and figuring out emotions beyond the basics (happy, sad, angry) this might take some work and might be a stage that you stick at for awhile. That’s okay. This is a hard step and one that’s well worth figuring out for your life as a whole! Something that can help is taking a look at an emotions wheel for ideas. It can help you learn the really nuanced emotions that can explain your why. I’ve also found 15 minute free writes to be really helpful. Just set a timer for 15 minutes and write until the timer goes off without lifting your pen off the paper or stopping to think about what you’re writing.
Credit: The Junto Institute
Step 2: Begin discussion portion
Now that you’ve each figured out your whys, come back together to discuss. One person gets to share at a time. Each person should strive to share their why in an objective manner and give as much detail as they need to feel heard. Use statements like, “when (situation) happens, I feel (emotion) because (reason for emotion)”, rather than “you always (action)”.
Next, the person who was listening states back what they understood from what the other person said. This helps in a few ways. First, they have to actually listen to what their partner is saying rather than be thinking about what they are going to say next. Second, it helps make sure both people are on the same page. We often find that we completely misunderstand what the other person is saying. This helps ensure we are understanding correctly. If it’s incorrect, the initial speaker should clarify. Repeat until both people are on the same page.
Now flip it. The person who was initially listening takes the time to explain their why and the other person just listens, without making excuses or interrupting. When the person is done speaking, the listener states what they understood.
Using this process often helps us resolve whatever it was we were arguing about. It’s usually a case of just not clearly understanding the other person’s why. Once we do, we usually are able to come to a solution quickly. Other times it’s not that easy and the next step is to problem solve together. It’s easier to problem solve now that you both fully understand how the other person feels.
2. Learn each other’s communication preferences
For a long time we were fighting simply because we didn’t understand each other’s communication preferences. If you feel this might be affecting your relationship, use this week’s challenge to discuss the following questions:
- What is the best way for me to bring up sensitive topics to you?
- When is the best time for me to bring up sensitive topics to you?
- What are trigger words that usually upset you?
- Is there anything I can do differently about the way I present my concerns to make them be better heard by you?
3. Schedule a counseling session
We did 3 sessions with a marriage counselor last year and they were such a game changer for our relationship. We are going to talk about this more in an upcoming video series, but I really wish we had done this before we got married. The counselor was able to help us talk through a difficult situation that had been the basis of the majority of our fights and help us see each other’s sides more clearly. Also, I noticed that there were things we each needed to hear from the counselor for it to really resonate.
We highly recommend this to every couple, no matter what stage of your relationship you are in. We want to start having a session as a quarterly or bi yearly “relationship check up”, just to maintain and keep our relationship healthy, kind of how you see a doctor or dentist for regular check ups to stay healthy.
4. Determine your non negotiables
For us, the following list are non negotiables. They are boundaries we will not cross no matter how heated an argument gets. Determine your own argument boundaries or steal ours:
- Cursing at each other
- Insulting each other
- Threatening each other, this includes the D word (divorce). I’ll admit, we’ve each said this one time to each other during our marriage and quickly realized that this needs to be added to the nonnegotiable list. It’s just not productive during an argument and it’s not conducive to unconditional love and trust, which we are always trying to foster
- Hanging up on each other or walking away
5. Clean up your fighting style
You may want to take this challenge as an opportunity to clean up your fighting style. If you tend to do any of these things during arguments, challenge yourself to break the habit and replace it with a healthier one. These are ones we still actively work on, it doesn’t come easily to us yet, but we notice a big difference when we can do this!
- Saying “you always” … instead, make it objective, “when (xyz) happens, I feel (xyz)”
- Making assumptions … instead, ask why (the trick here is to ask from a place of curiosity rather than anger)
- Continuing to argue beyond the point that the conversation is productive and is now just volatile … instead, take a break to calm down and come back to it
- Holding back things that are bothering you until one day it all piles up … instead, bring it up proactively in a objective manner and find a solution together