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He doesn’t understand me!

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It is not a very well-kept secret that poor communications underlies many relationship problems. Many of the clients who come to see me because they are going through a bad patch with their partner report that they have stopped having meaningful conversations. Most of their discussions are about the daily routine and the kids.

Communication comes from the Latin verb meaning ‘to share’. It is a two-way process of exchanging information and that process can be fraught with misunderstanding. So here is my five step approach to effective communication for good relationships

Step 1 Listen

You have probably heard already about active listening. The three stages of active listening are: comprehending, retaining, and responding. Here are some top tips for being an active listener for your partner:

    Step 2 Explain what you want

    How often have you expected your partner to understand what you want without you ever expressing it out loud? You’re not alone! So many of us think that we are great mind readers and we expect other people to be good at it too. But the truth is that nobody is good at mind reading and it is important to good relationships to be able to express yourself assertively.

    Assertiveness is not the same as aggression. Assertive people stand up for themselves and their rights while respecting others’ rights. They use language such as ‘I want’, ‘I feel’, ‘the alternatives are…’, ‘let’s discuss…’

    If this is a style that you are not used to, you might like to practice the following format:

    Explain – the situation as you see it. Be objective, be brief, don’t theorise

    Feelings – acknowledge your own feelings and take responsibility for them. Be aware of others’ feelings

    Needs – be selective, be realistic and be prepared to compromise

    Consequences – outline the rewards or outline the consequences

    Step 3 Understand what is important to you both

    Our values are the things that we think are important in our lives, the things that motivate us and get us up in the morning. Some examples of these in relationships are companionship, trust, physical love, shared interests, children, family, security, fidelity, feeling special and appreciation.

    A difference in values can be a hidden cause of conflict in any relationship. Both partners will act in a way to optimise their values even if they have never said what they are. They may even sabotage the relationship if they feel their values are not being satisfied.

    Have you ever asked your partner what he thinks are the most important aspects of your relationship? Are these the same for you? What action can you both take to satisfy each other’s values?

    Step 4 Respect Your Differences

    It can come as a surprise to some women, and men, that their partner is not being difficult, they just have different personality traits and think differently. Once you understand the differences you can take a step back from disagreements and be more objective about what the issues are.

    An influential personality trait is whether you and your partner are introverts or an extroverts. Introverts get their energy from being by themselves. They can enjoy being in small groups but will get exhausted by large groups of people. Extroverts are energised by being with other people. They find being by themselves enervating.

    When you first start a relationship you may have adapted this trait to fit in with your new partner. If you are an extrovert, you might have been quite happy to spend time just with your introvert man but now you are longing for your old sociable life. Or if you are an introvert, you may have pushed yourself to be sociable and mix with your man’s mates. Now you are desperate for some alone, ‘me time’.

    It is quite possible for extroverts to live happily with introverts, I do, but you have to make allowances. My introvert husband is happy to come with me to business network events and parties providing he knows one or two people he can stand in a corner and chat to. I am happy to go out for girls’ nights and leave him to his own space.

    Step 5 Give with Love

    Many of my clients tell me that they feel unappreciated by their partner no matter what they do for them. This may be because they express and recognise love in different ways. There are five main ways of expressing love:

      Think about which of the above is how you recognise that you are loved. You may have to prompt your partner to offer the right things to you.
      What do you give to your partner that he responds to? Can you give him more of that?

      Can you be a good communicator this Valentine’s Day?

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