Los Angeles Christian Counseling
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” – Tony Robbins
Communication skills are not superpowers that are given to us after we reach a certain level of enlightenment. They are skills that take practice, intentionality, and consistency in both stable and emotionally unstable moments.
Communication skills should be used in any moment that is presumed to be one of conflict, emotional flooding, disagreements, criticisms, and so much more. Skills are to be defined, understood, worked on, honed, and executed within the relationship.
Learning communication skills takes time, patience, and continuous effort. Most couples agree to attend therapy to learn these skills while others decide to learn from various books, podcasts, websites, and mentor couples.
It does not matter where you decide to learn the skills as long as you are committed to learning them and implementing them. Practicing these skills is the only way that you and your partner will learn how to have healthier communication patterns with one another
“Communication works for those who work at it.” – John Powell
“I” statements are communication skills created by John Gottman and his wife Julie Gottman. In most conversations, innately, without intentionality, we may assign blame, and accuse others when discussing our feelings and thoughts. The Gottmans identified I-statements as a way to fully dictate what you feel, think, and desire without assigning blame so that the other partner can be curious and understanding.
“I” statements can look like this: “When (STATE THE OBSERVATION) happens, I feel or I think ( STATE FEELING OR THOUGHT), in the future, I would prefer that (STATE PREFERENCE).”
Example of the I-statement: “When you don’t talk to me all day, I feel like you are uninterested because you used to talk to me all the time, in the future, I would prefer if you need time alone if you could communicate that to me instead of not talking to me.”
Curious vs. Critical with I-StatementsCouples will benefit from utilizing I-statements from a space of curiosity and trying to understand what their partner is saying instead of getting ready for a rebuttal of criticism. Believe that your partner cares for you and has your best interests at heart. When we approach from curiosity, defenses are low, and healthy communication can be implemented.
Worksheet on “I”-statements:https://positivepsychology.com/wp-content/uploads/Using-“I”-Statements.pdf
2. Assertive Communication
Assertive Communication is communicating and expressing your thoughts, feelings, and opinions in a way that makes your views and needs clearly understood by others, without putting down their thoughts, feelings, or opinions
Examples of Assertive Communication Skills: https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/assertive-communication.pdf
It is important to have a good handle on how you communicate with your partner because if there is a misunderstanding that can serve to make the issues more challenging and instead of working toward success it ends up feeling like you are farther away from your goal.
3. Active Listening Skills
Active Listening means being deeply engaged in and attentive to what the speaker is saying. It requires far more listening than talking. Your goal as an active listener is to truly understand the speaker’s perspective (regardless of whether you agree) and to communicate that understanding back to the speaker so that he or she can confirm the accuracy of your understanding.
There are Four Different Ways to Actively Listen:
Paraphrase: Restate the same information using different words.
Clarify: Invite the speaker to explain some aspects of what they said
Reflect: Relay what was said back to the speaker to show that you understand what was said and how they are feeling.
Summarize: Identify and connect key ideas and feelings in what the speaker said.
For examples of how to execute this: https://www.bumc.bu.edu/facdev-medicine/files/2016/10/Active-Listening-Handout.pdf
4. The Four Horseman & the Antidotes
(all definitions and examples can be found here: https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-the-antidotes/)
Stonewalling is when someone completely withdraws from a conflict discussion and no longer responds to their partner. It usually happens when you’re feeling flooded or emotionally overwhelmed, so your reaction is to shut down, stop talking, and disengage.
When couples stonewall, they’re under a lot of emotional pressure, which increases heart rates, releases stress hormones into the bloodstream, and can even trigger a fight-or-flight response. The antidote to Stonewalling is physiological self-soothing. The first step of self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion and call a timeout.
So, when you take a break, it should last at least twenty minutes because it will take that long before your body physiologically calms down. During this time, you must avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to take this anymore”) and innocent victimhood (“Why is he always picking on me?”).
Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music, reading, or exercising. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it helps you to calm down.
Criticism attacks a person’s very character instead of directing the emotion toward the issue.
The antidote to Criticism is to complain without blame by using a soft or gentle start-up. Avoid saying “you,” which can indicate blame, and instead talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express what you need in a positive way.
Contempt shows up in statements that come from a position of moral superiority. Some examples of contempt include sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is destructive and defeating. It is the greatest predictor of divorce, and it must be avoided at all costs. The antidote to contempt is to build spaces for appreciation and respect in your relationship
Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand.
Defensiveness is merely a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying that the problem isn’t me, it’s you. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.
Communication skills are not just skills to add to the resource list, they are a necessity. Many issues, challenges, and misunderstandings can be corrected if couples used communication skills more. Everyone can communicate, but in relationships, if there isn’t effective communication, one of care, curiosity, and compassion, the relationship can be impacted negatively.
It is most important to understand that everything flows from effective communication, how relationships work under pressure, understand one another, build intimacy, resolve conflict, show their love, and heal any past challenges. It all begins and ends with effective communication skills.
Each person must be willing to forgo the idea that they are wrong or right and focus on the idea of healthy communication patterns and having a happy life. The four relationship skills mentioned above are just a few of many. These are just some skills to get you both started on your journey of understanding one another and making space for a positive impact in the relationship.
I urge you to think about the best path when it comes to learning these skills. They are intricate and might take assistance from others to help you both. Whether that be in therapy, coaching, workshops, groups, or pastoral counseling.
There are so many options and avenues that can lead you to find what works best for both of you and what will be the most effective in helping you learn and implement the skills. If you are interested in therapy for relationship/communication skills, please do contact me. I would love to walk with you both on this journey. I pray for continuous love, joy, and wisdom for you both.
“Hikers”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Nappy.co, Public Domain; “Couple in Love”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Nappy.co, Public Domain; “Heart in the Sand”, Courtesy of Shanalovecoaching, Nappy.co, Public Domain; “Holding Pinkies”, Courtesy of Jasmine Wallace Carter, Pexels.com, CC0 License;
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