Evan walked into my office a Wednesday afternoon. He started consulting a few months back, as he was going through a rough time in his life. That day he came in with a particular demand in mind: first, he wanted to vent, then he wanted to know how to talk to his fiancée about certain issues that were disturbing him without her thinking that he was attacking her.
Evan described that since the beginning of the relationship he had the sensation of walking on eggshells when it came to talking about how he felt regarding their relationship, and also about behaviours that he did not like about her. He described how every time he tries to raise an issue that is bothering him, she feels like he is attacking her. Evan was asking me for communication strategies to use with his fiancée.
These are a few of the ones I shared with him.
Don´t point fingers at each other.
Every time you blame someone, look at the hand that is pointing the finger; you will see that there is one finger pointing at the other person, but three pointing at you. It´s always easier to see the flaws in others, but it is always smarter to see and accept yours first and think twice before you accuse. This visual example may help you not to start blaming others without analyzing the whole situation first. On top of this, when we adopt an accusatory tone, it is difficult to solve any issue and may end up hurting the person in front of us, our relationship and ourselves.
'When we are mindful of the way we choose to talk, the communication dynamics have an opportunity for change'
When Evan was talking about his fiancée, I reflected to him that he was putting all the responsibility on his fiancée by structuring his phrases the way he was. Here are a couple of examples: She frustrates me! She makes me angry!
I explained to him that if he wants to start talking about how he is feeling in the relationship, he needs to assume the responsibility of his emotions, his behaviours, and his words. No one has the power of controlling another human being’s emotions - unless we let them do so. She wasn´t making him frustrated or angry. Evan was reacting to certain characteristics that he was choosing unconsciously. So firstly, he would need to start seeing and acknowledging what belongs to him, then he would need to modify the way he is expressing them. Talk about you.
When we are mindful of the way we choose to talk, the communication dynamics have an opportunity for change. I suggested to Evan a very basic and popular communication technique: focus on you, own responsibility and express the malaise. When in a conversation or discussion with your partner, instead of choosing: I have told you a thousand times I can´t work like this you frustrate me, your music annoys me; try to modify by using the three points I talked about above. So, it would look something like this: I feel frustrated when there is loud music while I am working. Then follow it with your request: would you mind turning it down a little bit?
The Sandwich Technique.
Evan didn’t know how to start a different conversation. A discussion that would allow him to express how he was feeling in his relationship. He said he never found the right time and didn´t know how to do it. I thought of giving him a communication technique that I learned years ago, even before university while I was still working as a summer camp counsellor: they called it the sandwich method.
The conversation will be divided into three parts. Parts one and three, are going to be very similar – they will be the bread of the sandwich. On those two parts, I suggested that he focus on telling his fiancée, genuinely the positive characteristics that he sees and likes about her, and about their relationship. The second part would be addressing the issue, he could use the previous technique – that would be the filling of the sandwich. This would help him structure his conversation, whilst also being more appreciative and grateful of his relationship and his fiancée, without keeping the the emotions he is feeling to himself.
When Evan came back to the following session he said, he started using some of the suggestions that we had discussed. Some of them were working, some of them were being practiced and attuned to himself. He has been working on improving his communication with his fiancée and on being more aware of his emotions.
Please share some of the tips or strategies that you use to better communicate with others by leaving a message below.
José Briones is a registered psychologist and psychotherapist located in Montreal, Canada. He started his career in Mexico City working for Health and educational institutions, and in private practice. He also has experience in the employee and family assistance program industry. José currently provides psychotherapy in private practice mostly with adults, and in a local college with adolescents and young adults.
José writes on a weekly basis in his blog: 'Just Shrink About It!' and enjoys being with his three kids and his wife as well as playing football and other sports. You can read more from José on his blog or get in touch with him via Facebook or Linked In