Obviously, couples who learn to communicate well are much happier than those who don’t. Consider these questions: Do I feel I am heard and understood by my partner? Do I really hear my spouse; or do I make assumptions and think I know what they are saying? Couples who feel misunderstood and criticized are more likely to divorce. Criticism kills marriages and cannot be a regular part of communication because it hinders building harmony, intimacy and interaction. Criticism stifles healthy communication because when you feel attacked, your walls go up and you are now on the defensive. If both parties are defending themselves, nothing is truly accomplished and both parties get hurt. It’s a no-win situation at this point.
We are always communicating either verbally or non-verbally, but the question is: is it healthy communication? We can communicate loud and clear without saying a word. An example is: your stepchild comes in to tell their parent goodnight and won’t even look at you. You heard their message: they don’t want much to do with you. That can be very hurtful especially if you have worked to become a part of their life.
Increasing positive communication in a marriage is just one part of improving your relationship: decreasing the negative communication is also important. So we must increase positive communication and decrease the negative communication.
I’ll share the unhealthy cycle my husband and I were stuck in for years. Though my son was involved, it was actually a marriage problem. We could not communicate about a particular area because we had made assumptions about what each other thought, we thought we knew what the other was thinking. But we were wrong. Just because you live with someone, doesn’t mean you can read their mind. Every time we tried to talk about this subject, it would blow up so we tried to avoid it. I was a pleaser, so if things were going well, I didn’t want to bring up anything that would rock the boat.
Keenan was a very active and healthy boy, he loved playing outside; riding bikes, hanging with friends, playing football, surfing, the list could go on. He is all boy. My husband is a fun-loving man with a very friendly personality, he’s an engineer and a very hard worker. Our cycle began quite innocently. If Ron saw Keenan doing something he didn’t like, I felt, Ron would overreact and be too firm with him. So I would jump in and try to rescue my little guy. Ron saw this as me undermining his relationship with Keenan. And Keenan couldn’t understand why I couldn’t make Ron stop being so firm. The more I tried, the more Ron felt disrespected, and the firmer he became. So round and round we went. We were in a vicious cycle and we didn’t know how to stop it. Ron disciplining too harshly, me coming to the rescue and Keenan stuck in the middle.
And we didn’t stop this cycle until we got some counseling and finally saw it for what it was. Because we had a third party present who could see each side and help keep things calm, we were actually able to communicate healthily. We shared what we felt and thought about what was going on, we did not attack each other nor did we assume we knew what the other was thinking as we had done before. You see, I assumed that Ron didn’t like my son and Ron thought I was undermining his position as the man of the house. In truth, Ron actually loved my son, that is why he was involved. And I never intended to make Ron feel disrespected, I just wanted to protect my son from him as I thought he was too firm. We should have, as a couple, sought counseling about this subject earlier. This was a marriage communication problem, it could have been solved had we talked it through and worked on it until we got on the same page and learned more about how to blend our stepfamily. From the outside, it looked like my husband and son just didn’t get along. (and quite frankly, they didn’t but this was one of the reasons why). But it was really a communication problem between my husband and I.
There are three types of communication styles. As I go through them, try to discern which one you are and which one your spouse is. In the above example, we were using Passive Communication, it seemed easier not to talk about the issue and resolve it but we were all hurt by not talking about it. And then we would move into Aggressive Communication when we could hold it in no longer and things would blow up, but it still didn’t get resolved. That is the goal: resolve the issue.
1) Passive Communication displays an unwillingness to honestly share thoughts, feelings, or desires. It could come from low self-esteem and is used to avoid hurting other’s feelings or to avoid being criticized. Passive Communication is a barrier to true intimacy because you are not being honest. It could leave the other person in the relationship feeling angry, confused and not trusting because they don’t really know what you think or feel.
2) Aggressive Communication displays accusatory remarks and blames the other person with words like “you always or you never”. It is generally used because you are feeling threatened or having negative thoughts or emotions.. The person becomes aggressive and puts their partner on the defense. This type of communication focuses on the negative characteristics of the person rather than on the situation. It also erodes true intimacy. We can move in and out of passive and aggressive communication: holding it in until we blow up.
3) Assertive Communication expresses itself in a healthy, non-threatening, and non-demanding way. It means asking clearly and directly for what you want or need. It shows respect for yourself and your partner and gives them the opportunity to show respect in return. It does not put them on the defense and is not accusatory, it simply states what you would like them to do and how. An example could be: Honey, I would like for you to help me clean the house this Saturday. I was thinking maybe you could clean the bathroom and mop the floors while I dust and vacuum. Is that something you could help with? If not, we will have to come up with another plan as I really do need help. This gives your partner respect as well as gives them the option to help you or come up with another plan. You are focusing on the situation and what you need, not accusing them of not helping you in the past. You are free to express what you need without demeaning the other person.
Can you identify your communication style? And which one is your partners? We might use all of them occasionally, but which one do you use the most?
Healthy Communication is vitally important to blending a stepfamily so we will continue talking about it on our next blog.