Let’s admit it – relationships are hard. There’s no class about how to communicate with other people and no one teaches us these skills as we grow up. Most of us don’t have the skills we need to communicate effectively and as a result conversations go sideways, arguments escalate, relationships get damaged and we get hurt.
So what gets in the way of having effective communication and healthy relationships?
1. You don’t have the skills you need. The only place we can learn about how to communicate is by watching our caregivers (mother, father, grandparents, etc). They in turn learned from their caregivers – it’s passed down through generations. If our caregivers didn’t learn, they couldn’t teach us, and then we have no resource to learn those skills ourselves. The good news is that skills can be taught and learned!
2. You don’t know what you want. How many times have you gotten into a conversation or argument and then at the end you felt unsatisfied and more confused than ever? Did you know what you wanted from the conversation? Did the other person know what they wanted? You might have wanted a specific outcome like getting a day off of work or feeling understood by the other person, improving the relationship, feeling that you stood up for yourself and stuck to your values. Prioritize what you want so that you don’t get off track during the conversation.
3. Your emotions are getting in the way. Emotions are tricky beasts. They involve our thoughts (“that person was rude to me”), our feelings (sadness and shame, fear and anger) and body sensations (rapid heart beat, sweating, having a hard time breathing). In order to manage emotions you have to manage all of these things and that’s really tough. When your emotions are overwhelming you can’t think clearly. If the person you’re talking to also has overwhelming emotions then it is doubly as difficult.
4. Your thoughts and beliefs are getting in the way. We all have little lies that we tell ourselves that feel like truth. Here are some examples:
I don’t deserve to get what I want.
I shouldn’t be nice to others if they aren’t nice to me.
Everyone is out to get me.
If I ask for what I want (or say no to a request) they won’t like me.
Everyone has some myths that they live with they get in the way of talking to people effectively. What are your myths? Do any of these above resonate with you?
5. You’re worried all the time. In our fast-paced world we are often inundated by worries. Worry about money, worry about our kids, worry about our jobs, worry about health and so on. Those worries creep into our personal lives and relationships. When we worry, there’s not enough mental space to think about how we want to treat other people and how we want to be treated, much less how to get there.
6. You forget long terms goals for short terms ones. In the heat of the moment you want to be heard (short term goal) so you yell at the other person to shut up. They quiet down for the moment but the damage has been done to the relationship that is so important to you (long term goal). You can repair the damage if you reach out, and also change your behavior. Sometimes you have to be assertive – you just have to know when and how to find balance between being assertive and being gentle. Communicating in the extremes (always being assertive or always being gentle) won’t get you what you want in life and in relationship.
There are a lot of books and other resources that can help you improve your communication skills and help you get the relationships you want in your life. It takes focus and practice. Therapy can help, as can reading up on skills. I love the following book, which is based on DBT therapy:
The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotional Regulation and Distress Tolerance by McKay, Wood and Brantley.
Therapy can also be very effective at improving communication skills and healthy relationships.
Request information about DBT therapy and Improving Relationships:
Feel free to contact me with questions or comments.