Can't We Talk Without Losing It?

Anger and healthy communication blog

Learning how to communicate takes different skill sets. First, being able to control your reactions and communicate in a healthy way helps but then, you need to listen and respond without losing it. That takes some serious skill!

No one learns this stuff in school. If we did, then relationships would be so much easier to navigate! Without the right tools, anyone can fall into bad habits. There are so many ways communication breaks down and becomes destructive.

In this blog you'll learn the how to avoid the common pitfalls and learn what it takes to communicate so both of you can be heard.

Communication Pitfalls

  • Blaming the other person

  • Using "you" statements

  • Becoming defensive

  • Letting your anger get out of hand

  • Name calling and insults

  • Forcing the conversation

  • Making assumptions

  • Avoiding conflict

  • Needing to be right

Get Agreement First

Many arguments start when one person forces the issue when the other one isn't ready. This is how arguments get heated quickly, over the little things.

Next time you want to talk, ask permission first. If it's a serious topic, give the other person a heads up. Getting agreement up front shows respect and improves the outcome - even if this is the only change you make!

What to Say:

"Tonight, I'd really like to talk about the budget. Are you up for that?”

What if they say no? Negotiate a good time. One partner is usually more eager to talk because they need to vent or resolve things quickly. Giving your partner the time they need builds trust and promotes resolution. But it also requires patience! Trust that by giving them more time the relationship will reap the benefits over time.

What if they still don't want to talk? 

Think about what contributes to that. Do they typically avoid conflict? Are they afraid of your response? If you think you know the reason, check it out gently.

Example:

"I'm wondering if you don't want to talk because we usually end up fighting.” Or, “I wonder if you feel like you have to fix me when I’m upset?”

Dealing with the reason they don't want to talk is critical to get the conversation back on track. Once you understand their hesitation, you can talk about ways to make it better. Here are some suggestions to help restart the communication.

Recognize Early Signs of Stress 

Stress left unchecked becomes anger so catching it early is essential.

Most people don't realize how stress impacts communication until it's too late. Screaming, throwing things, making threats and even violence happens fast if you aren’t aware of your stress.

Before you start a potentially difficult conversation, monitor your stress level. Do your best to manage those feelings first then come back when you're calm. Talk a walk or call a friend for support before trying to talk things out.

Find ways to center yourself because it takes energy to listen and communicate effectively. You'll also be better equipped to handle a negative response - if you're not too stressed.

Using “I” Statements Effectively

When you're trying to get your point across, it's important to know how to express yourself assertively. Here are some examples.

"I felt really hurt when you didn't call me back."

"When you told your mother I couldn't handle our son, I was really hurt."

Both examples state the facts of what happened. There is no trace of judgment, criticism or generalizations. These are examples of clear, assertive messages that convey how you feel. The goal of healthy communication lies in saying how you feel without making the other person wrong.

Express opinions rather than using the facts to be right. That way, it comes across more inviting and less righteous. People have a harder time arguing with an opinion!

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Listening Goes a Long Way 

Generally people are focused more on getting what they want more than listening to what's being said. If someone gets defensive, breathe and let them vent. Defensiveness escalates the argument so stay calm. It takes two to tango!

 What to do & what not to do with anger

What to do & what not to do with anger

First, let the other person "vent" and feel heard can help them calm down. If they become abusive, you need to protect yourself. 

Always remove yourself to keep you and the kids safe. Doing this without pointing out their bad behavior works better. Otherwise, you risk escalating the conversation which could lead to further abuse.

Give them feedback about what you hear. Include what they might be feeling, but show that you are trying to understand them, not make them wrong.

Examples:

"What I hear you saying is that you're frustrated and feel unappreciated at home. Is that right?"

If it's not correct, ask them to say it again. This is important because it does two things. It validates - not agrees with - their point of view and makes them feel supported. You avoid judgment.

Here 'is another example.

"Okay, what I heard you saying is that I'm no good for you and this isn't working. Is that right?"

I purposely picked this statement because it assumes the worst case scenerio. Checking out your assumptions gives the other person a chance to clarify what was said. This can greatly decrease misunderstandings.

Using Time-outs

When recognizing your stress, know when the best time is to use a time-out. There is a simple rule of thumb, if you can't listen, stop talking. When you can’t listen your probably too upset to keep talking.

Time-outs are not a way to get out of dealing with the other person. It's a planned break to calm yourself down. It’s not for partying with friends or leaving for a few days.

Research shows that it takes 20 minutes to reverse the physical signs of stress. To read more click my blog on Managing Anger with Time-out.

Conflict Avoiders

In most relationships there is one person that tends to avoid conflict. This happens because of fear. Here are some tips when avoiding conflict is an issue.

  • Write about the past experiences that contribute to avoiding conflict.

  • If you uncover abuse or trauma, counseling or support groups may help.

  • Start practicing "I Statements" when there isn't any conflict.

  • Let your partner know what you need to make conflict easier.

  • Discuss how each of you can use time-outs to feel safe.

Start by practicing one new skill at a time. See if you and your partner can try these exercises together. Focus on making the changes you want to make instead of trying to change the other person. You can’t make people change but by changing your behavior you can learn how to build healthier connections, one small change at a time! For more help with conflict read How to Avoid Relationship Meltdown: Your Blueprint for Conflict Resolution.


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