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Article by John Yzaguirre, Ph.D., published by Living City magazine 


When couples seek help for their marriage, the most common complaint is lack of communication. Quite often this is not only a cause of major strain in their relationship, but also a symptom of other issues (unresolved conflicts, poor coping skills, feeling stressed out, suffering from time famine, difficulty forgiving and so on). Here are some practical suggestions that are directed toward couples, but which anybody can apply in their family or with friends.



Set the stage for conflict-free communication

Among couples, when one says, “Honey, we need to talk,” the listener often hears: “Honey, we have a problem.” In this case, communication has been reduced to a necessary conversation to address an unresolved issue or an interpersonal conflict. Instead, communication needs to be ongoing, so that it is not restricted to when one or another person feels there is a problem. While communication and conflict resolution are critical components of a good relationship, they require different approaches at different moments. Good communication is an enjoyable experience of mutual sharing, understanding and appreciation. Conflict resolution is a specific approach used to integrate differences through behavioral change. Some couples find it very helpful to set aside a short time each week for conflict resolution and to engage in “conflict-free communication” the rest of the week. This creates a relaxed atmosphere of emotional safety that facilitates better communication.


Create your own ritual of intimacy

Find the time that works best for both of you to create your own ritual of intimacy for conflict-free communication. Some couples like to share while they take a walk or after a meal or during some quiet time. Preferably this is not left to the very end of the day when you are both most tired. If it is a daily ritual you might need to set aside only 20 to 30 minutes, but if it is only once a week you will need longer. A ritual is not a routine, because it is an intentional activity, mutually agreed and valued, with a clear beginning and a clear ending. Be creative and experiment until you find the best moment and the best circumstances to enjoy your ritual of intimacy.


Share the meaning of your day, not just the news

Personal communication is about sharing the personal meaning of some events of your day versus the news of the day. The meaning of an event is something very subjective, based on your personal motivation behind your actions. The quality of your sharing is not determined by how dramatic was the event that you are describing but by how meaningful it was. For example, a small action carried out on the basis of love can be more meaningful than an “impressive” action carried out for less-noble reasons. Communication is about sharing your thoughts, feelings and life experiences as a gift of love for each other. When you share at this level, you keep each other updated on the person that you are becoming and this experience of mutuality will in turn transform both of you. Conversely, whatever you do not share will eventually get lost and it will inhibit the growth of your relationship.


Easy listening skills

Do you find that listening is usually harder than sharing? We think this is because listening requires making room in your mind, heart and soul for the one you are listening to. It is a form of existential silence that allows the speaker to share more fully and deeply. We use the acronym “EASY” to describe these listening skills: emptiness, acceptance, sensitivity and yielding. First, as a listener, avoid immediately analyzing what the speaker is saying, and instead empty yourself from worries or from preparing a response. In your heart, set aside your biases and emotional residue of the past and any anticipatory anxiety over the future. Do try to listen with your whole mind and heart in that moment. Second, accept what the speaker shares without passing any judgment. Practice compassionate acceptance to better understand what the speaker is saying. Third, show sensitivity by identifying with the needs and wishes of the speaker, becoming one with them. Embrace the reality that the speaker is sharing and make it yours. Finally, yield to the speaker by allowing them to complete their sharing in a reasonable amount of time, without interrupting or withdrawing from listening. Quite often the quality of your listening will determine the quality of the speaker’s sharing.


Value what you heard

When the speaker has had a chance to share something meaningful, appreciate the gift received before you start your own sharing. Through your feedback make sure that the speaker felt understood and valued by you. This will reinforce the use of personal sharing in the future and will improve the level of emotional intimacy between the two of you. The art of good communication is a cornerstone in building greater mutuality.


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