The way you communicate matters

Communicating with your family“I can’t help it! The words just come out.” I’ve had this theme come up several times over the last few weeks of working with clients. People explain to me that they feel guilty or ashamed of the way they talk to their partner or their children. Do your children walk on eggshells around you? Does your husband avoid talking to you because he may get yelled at, snapped at or left feeling inadequate after you’ve spoken? I’d like to tell you, you CAN help it. The way we communicate with our loved ones is one of the primary ways we build our relationship with them.

One aspect of healthy communication is the ability to monitor yourself and be thoughtful BEFORE the words come out. I know it’s hard! I know when you’re angry, impatient or irritated it feels impossible to control yourself. It is truly an exercise in mindfulness to be able to formulate your words before they come out. It’s worth the effort! Start by tuning into yourself and learning what YOU need to feel peaceful and loving.

 “Having a daily practice creates faithful, self-generated enthusiasm. Whether you reach this inner state through prayer, meditation, dancing, swimming, walking or feeding the hungry is immaterial. What is your practice? What is steering this boat that is your fragile human life?” Alice Walker

So here are my tips for better communication. Remember to voice your love, appreciation, gratitude and joy. It may seem obvious to you but when you put it in words, your partner and your children smile back at you and feel a connection. AND it makes you feel good.

And when you’re in a heated situation, take a moment to consider these questions about your communication:

  • Is it helpful? If I choose to say something right now, will it be helpful in getting information across about the situation instead of a verbal attack? (i.e. “The milk spoils if it’s left out on the counter.” Instead of “No one ever cleans up around here! You all are worthless!”)
  • Is it kind? If you realize what is about to come out of your mouth is just downright mean, don’t say it! Any comments that attack the character of your child or partner are not helpful and not kind. (i.e. You always… You never… You are such a…)
  • Is it necessary? Consider it! Ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say even necessary?” This made sense to me when I was repeatedly saying to my daughter, “Don’t spill that.” “Don’t break that.” Was that really helpful? No. Was it necessary? No.

Use these three questions as a gauge to monitor yourself. It gets easier the more you do it. You can usually answer the questions before you’ve thought too long about it. If it’s mean or unnecessary, it’s immediately obvious.

So, what do you do if you really have to say something? Say it like this:

“I feel…” and/or “I need…” When you formulate your communication by describing how you feel and/or what you need, you’ll be SO MUCH more effective at saying things that don’t send your loved ones running the other way with hurt or fear. AND you’ll feel better about yourself! Imagine getting through a difficult situation with your partner and/or your children and NOT feeling guilty or ashamed of the way you handled yourself! And even better, you’ll feel like you’ve actually worked to find solutions and connect with them. WOW! Is that even possible?! YES IT IS!

Here are some examples:

I feel angry when I get home and the house is a mess.

I need more help picking up the toys after you all play in the living room.

I feel irritated when I don’t get enough sleep.

I need more time with you, honey, so I don’t get so exhausted with the kids.

Can you see how these statements may actually motivate your loved ones to help you?! (So much more than insults, snapping and irritated judgments.)

How does communication affect the relationships that matter most to you?

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