I hope you discovered from our last blog what yours and your spouses communication types are. Are you a passive communicator, not wanting to divulge your thoughts and feelings? Passive Communicators find it easier not to express what they want or need but this could leave the partner feeling confused and angry. This is how I learned to communicate but since it has not served me well, I have determined to learn how to be an Assertive Communicator. Oftentimes, we communicate well in business or friendships but may find it more difficult in marriage but this is exactly the place we need to communicate effectively.
Or are you an aggressive communicator who kind of attacks your partner rather than divulging what you really need or want. When a situation arises, do you resort to attacking your mate rather than the situation thus leaving your partner feeling hurt and wanting to withdraw.
Then there is the Assertive Communicator. Do you clearly state what you desire and need with respect, clarity and boundaries? This leads to a healthy relationship and promotes intimacy. We all crave intimacy~being truly known and loved for who we are. And it supports your partner to respond assertively so there are no guessing or wrong assumptions made in the relationship.
Why are we discussing communication? Because it’s part of a strong foundation. If the foundation decays, the marriage crumbles and the family falls apart. In a step family, if healthy communication is not modeled between the couple, with a strong united front, the kids will pick up on it and may try to erode what you are trying to accomplish not only in your marriage but your family. Many step families have fallen apart because they could not learn to communicate effectively and it begins with the couple.
Most of us have used all three types of communication. But how do we stop Aggressive or Passive Communication and replace it with Assertive Communication?.
#1) You must be aware of the type you most often use so that when you begin to use it again, whether it’s Passive or Aggressive, you can stop and then choose to use the Assertive method. Now if you’re in the heat of an argument, this will be very difficult to do unless you have pictured yourself calmly expressing what you think and need. So picture it ahead of time and practice it then when something comes up, you are more prepared to handle the situation and not shrink back from saying what you need or resort to attacking your spouse in the midst of it. Keep trying to express yourself assertively until it becomes more your style than the other two. You may not always do it “right” but better to try and fail than to just give up.
2). Use “I” Statements ~ which is a statement about your thoughts and feelings. It keeps the focus on you. It expresses what you need without placing blame or attacking so your mate will be less likely to respond defensively. You want to be heard right? We all do. Clearly expressing what you need using this simple formula can be transforming. The formula is: I feel __________ when you ____________. Example is I feel angry when you automatically side with your child whenever our children have a dispute. I feel it would be better for our whole family if you would hear both sides of the story before jumping to conclusions.
You can use this method for both negative and positive feelings. In the case of positive you could say: I feel so relieved when you take the time to hear both sides of the dispute when our kids battle before you decide what actually happened. On the one hand, you are expressing what you want to happen. On the other, you are expressing positive feedback and reinforcing that the behavior will continue. You are not attacking or expecting them to read your mind, you are expressing your thoughts clearly. With “I” statements, you are avoiding “You” statements such as You always or You never which accuse the other person and put them on the defense. You will probably need to practice this formula because we usually don’t express ourselves this way. Practice saying to yourself I feel __________ when you __________. This will help you to clarify your own feelings and thoughts before you try to express them.
3). Use Active Listening. Really hearing what the other person is saying is just as important as being heard and it fosters true intimacy, understanding and communication. Don’t assume you know what they are thinking or feeling, let them tell you. Then repeat back to them what you believe you heard them say. This will help you clarify anything you may not understand and it will open the door for further communication.
An example of Assertive Communication with an Active Listening Response:
Assertive Communication: I really feel little Johnny needs more time with you so that you two can develop a healthy relationship.
Active Listening: What I hear you say is you think Johnny and I should spend some time together so we can develop our relationship, it that correct?
My husband was trying to tell me something for quite a while but I did not hear him. Not until recently when things blew up and I was forced to hear. When we assume we know what they want without clarifying it, we are headed for trouble. Eventually, they will be heard one way or another. Because I know him so well, I thought I knew what he meant but had I repeated back to him what I thought I heard, the mix-up wouldn’t even had happened.
If you hear your spouse complain about the same thing over and over, they are letting you know that something is not right. If you are wise, you will let them know they are important and you want to hear what they are saying. Actively listen and then assert what you feel and what you need. It’s a two-way street.
So assert what you need using the I feel _____ when you ____ formula. And when you are listening to them, repeat back what you believe you heard them say. And don’t give up if it doesn’t work perfectly the first time. Keep trying to hear and be heard by your loved one.
Prov 18:13 says “He who answers before listening-that is his folly and his shame.”