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Errors in Communication

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Fighting Couple

When people talk with their partners about problems, there are certain common mistakes they sometimes make that worsen the situation. As I described in Show You Care Through How You Listen, being a good listener can make all the difference in the world in your relationship. But, as you try to be a good listener, it’s important to avoid the following errors:

Overly positive: When you look for the silver lining in situations without acknowledging your partner’s difficulty, your partner is likely to feel you are discounting their experience. An example of this is: Don’t worry about being fired this mornin, you’ll find a better job soon. A better approach is: I’m sorry you got fired. I can understand why you are so upset. (After some discussion in which you validate your partner’s experience, you might add: I’m sure you’ll find another job soon. And you can even look for one with an opportunity for growth; something you were wanting.)

Defensive: By focusing on defending yourself, you are failing to care about your partner’s experience. For example: I know I was late, but I got caught in traffic. So, leave me alone about it. A better approach is: I’m really sorry I was late. Unfortunately, it was unavoidable – I got caught in unexpected traffic.

Fixing the problem: When you jump right into fixing your partner’s problem, you don’t necessarily get the point across that you care. And, your partner might take your comments as being critical of them or their abilities. An example of this is: You shouldn’t be so upset by your boss’s comments, he’s just trying to help you improve. A better approach is: Ouch! That must have hurt when he said those things. If you really want to share some ideas you have for approaching the situation differently, it is wise to ask if your partner wants to hear this feedback at that point – or at all.

Parroting: When people are first learning to show that they’ve heard their partner, they often just repeat what their partner said word for word. For instance, a wife says: I’m so angry with you for yet again not paying the bills on time. And, her husband responds: So, you are angry with me for yet again not paying the bills. This will not help the wife feel understood or cared about. It’s essential that you show in some way that you “get” what your partner is saying and are not just repeating or summarizing what they’ve said.

By showing that you are listening, you are also showing that you really care. And when your partner feels cared about, he or she will be much more open to working with you to fix problems and to move forward in creating a happy relationship.

If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic on the Relationships and Coping Community, click here.

Photo: Pixland
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