Communication: Even therapists struggle with it

This may seem like a blog about communicating with your significant other, but in reality, these skills should be used in every day life. It’s important to learn interpersonal skills/ communication skills because sometimes it’s assumed that people know how to talk to others when, in reality, it’s not an innate characteristic. It’s assumed that we know how to ask for things or how to express ourselves without sounding offensive or being too passive. It’s assumed that we know how to work together on a project at work or provide constructive criticism to a friend that’s asking for help. It’s assumed that we know how to have a productive conversation with our partners without someone storming out.  And yes, sometimes we may even bite our tongue because we’re afraid of how the other person will react.

We do grow up wanting to connect with our caregivers, we yearn for the eye contact, the physical contact, and the positive affirmations; these are all innate characteristics. There are thousands of research articles that back up this information, but how do children know how to communicate when they just want to be held? They don’t. They just cry. Then how do children later know how to ask for help? They learn. We all learn as we get older. But how do we ensure that we are all learning the correct info? That’s where the discrepancies come into play.

I for instance, learned how to communicate one way growing up and have learned other ways that are more effective throughout my education and practice as a therapist… Okay, so let me tell you the story about the purse.

There have been several times in the past when I’ve been in such a whirlwind that I become Forgetful Lucy (I hope you get the reference). I drive several miles, get to my destination, get ready to pay and realize that I have no wallet. Yes, I know. VERY embarrassing. Sometimes we just have so much in our mind that we make mistakes, its okay.  Anyhow, as a therapist, I love to utilize the skills I know to have meaningful conversations with my partner. Yes, I’m guilty of therapizing my life as well. But if you had all this knowledge, wouldn’t you use it for yourself too?

So one day I ask my partner, “Whats one thing that I do, that gets under your skin?”. Now the average partner would steer away from answering this question. But I’d hope that from all the conversations we’ve had, we’ve built enough trust for the conversation to be meaningful and for my partner to know that it wasn’t a trick question. So when I got my answer, I was not surprised- “I don’t like when you forget your wallet and your ID. It frustrates me”… Ah yes! Success. Now, I know not to take it personal; my partner just shared his feelings and I have to honor those feelings. I know that he is being honest and I just have to take his answer and run with it.

So what did I say? Well, first I thought, Okay, what can I do to best solve this issue?  But out loud I said, “Okay, so how can WE come up with a solution?” After some back and forth on coming up with solutions, some more realistic than others, we decided I need an everyday purse where my wallet remains at all times. No work purse. No going out purse. No weekend purse. No small clutch. No hobo bag. No over the shoulder purse. No nothing. Just ONE purse. Yes, we do have to compromise sometimes. But I’m all about saving money and I’m not too big on purses. So far, the solution has worked. And the best parts are: 1. My partner feels heard 2. We had a productive conversation without anyone’s feelings being hurt 3. I don’t forget my wallet when I leave the house 4. We came up with the solution together

Overall, we want the positive/productive conversations with our families,  work colleagues, friends, and partners, but don’t know how to give it. There are times when I might say things without thinking and I do want to reel my words back into my mouth. Or other times when I stay quiet and I don’t speak up. Yes, I am guilty. Yes, it is hard. But communication is always a work in progress just like everything else in our lives. As long as we all work towards a better communicative relationship with one another, the arguments and misinterpretations along the way are well worth it.

Here are some of the things that I mentioned in this blog on better communicative skills:

  1. Utilize “I” statements when expressing your feelings in order to take responsibility for them rather than putting them on someone else.  These are tricky to get used to, and it used to take me a second to slow down and think about saying things this way. But once you get used to it, its definitely a great way to allow some room for the feeling rather than behavior causing the feeling (i.e. “I feel frustrated when you forget your purse). 
  2.  Avoid using attacking words or phrases (i.e.“Why don’t you ever..” “You’re so frustrating” “You make me angry because you always forget your purse) 
  3. Sit down and have a conversation. Give the person your attention and use an appropriate tone of voice. There’s no sense in trying to share your feelings when you aren’t respecting yourself enough to make it a real conversation.
  4. Take the other person’s feelings and honor them. Don’t get offended if they’re sharing their feelings. It’s okay to be frustrated, angry, sad, overwhelmed, etc. Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. We are all allowed to express how we feel in a productive and healthy manner.
  5. Not all “serious conversations” end negatively. Make it a habit to talk to your family, friends, and partner. This way, when you have “serious conversations”, it isn’t approached with fear or frustration.
  6. Utilize problem solving skills to work together and have a meaningful conversation that may sometimes lead to the bonus item of a resolution! (Because yes, sometimes you just have to agree to disagree).

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