February is the month of love. One of the best ways we can be loving partners is to be better communicators with each other. But sometimes it's not that easy. Whether you've been together one year or 50 years, bad communication habits can develop and become ingrained.
Does this sound familiar? You're in one end of the house and your spouse calls out from the other end to ask you a question. Neither of you can hear each other but you continue the conversation anyway.
This inefficient communication habit happens between my husband and me on a regular basis, and we've been married 45 years. You'd think after all these years we'd have learned. But it takes conscious effort to be a good communicator and we all need reminders to avoid getting cranky with each other when we don't communicate well.
My husband and I collaborate on many projects and our desks are just 10 feet apart. I'm guilty of calling out a question without looking to see if he's working on something.
We recently sat down and discussed some of our communication issues -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.
After our talk, we came up with some basic do's and don'ts to be a better communicator. We've put them into practice and have happily discovered that they really do make a difference in our communication and our relationship.
Do's and Don'ts of Being a Better Communicator with Your Partner
- Get your partner's attention before you begin speaking -- so he's not in mid-thought or the middle of a project. Getting the person's attention before speaking is important for any age but it's even more important as we get older. For example, Can I tell you something?
- Tell him what you're going to tell him. Set the scene -- so he understands the context of what you're about to say. For example, I want to tell you about the play I saw today.
- Collect your thoughts and focus on what you're about to say before you start speaking.
- Get face-to-face and look at each other. Stop washing dishes, folding napkins, or brushing imaginary lint off your clothes!
- Observe before speaking. If your partner's in the middle of reading an email or doing a crossword puzzle, save it for later.
- Use "I" statements to mirror back what your partner has just said as a way to show that you have a genuine desire to understand.
- Paraphrase what you heard your partner say to make sure you heard correctly. For example, It sounds like you're disappointed you missed the program.
- Don't multi-task. For example, don't try to talk to her when she's cooking or when he's reading the newspaper or texting.
- Don't use drive-by communication. For example, don't come into a room, say something, and then leave. Wait around for a comment or response.
- Don't leave a teaser. For example, don't say: Remind me later to tell you about this fabulous meeting I had today.
- Don't speak or ask a question from another room. Remember: face-to-face works best for both people.
- Don't finish your partner's sentences. Silently count to ten if you can't stand the wait. He may say something other than what you thought.
- Don't interrupt with a lot of questions. Trust that your partner will cover everything that's important in his own way. If you need more information or clarification, you can explain what you didn't understand.
- Don't have a "last word" competition. If you find yourself going back and forth on a point, ask your partner to clarify what he's trying to say and then repeat it back.
One of the most powerful tools we've used over the years is to schedule a "communication date" with each other once or twice a week. One partner takes five or 10 minutes to say whatever is on his/her mind without interruption or comments from the other. Then the other partner gets a turn to speak without interruption while the other listens.
Taking the time to respect and appreciate your partner's perspective can go a long way in strengthening communication. It definitely takes patience, energy and focus to practice these basic communication skills, but the payoff is worth it.