Most of us were given lessons about Math, Science, Geography, Chemistry, and Philosophy (which are highly important and valuable) yet, I wish that communication skills were given as much attention and importance in our education system and culture. I say this because, most couples who come to my office for couple therapy, claim to have troubles with “communication skills”. I do not blame them since most of us have never been taught how to communicate.
Communication is not a simple quick skill to learn, it will take a lot of willingness and effort. Bad news is, that our job will become even harder if we were raised in a culture or a family where our caregivers struggled with communication skills. Moreover, if we witnessed violence in our upbringing – yelling, screaming, verbal or even physical abuse – we have either internalized a part of that in our unconscious or we have blocked out any notions of conflict that arise in our relationships. Therefore, and sadly, we can become passive aggressive in ways that can make us unable to communicate our feelings, needs and wants. Instead we become sarcastic or inattentive which can be highly hurtful to our family members. On the other hand, we can also be prone to adopting a violent form of communication in which we communicate our needs and wants through blaming, contempt, criticism and in some cases yelling, screaming and getting physical. The sad thing is that in both cases of passive aggressive communication and violent communication we do not usually get our needs met and it will leave us with more disappointment, anger and sadness.
Communication is not a quick solution to fixing all of our marital and relational issues, it is a much deeper concept and it involves courage and an assumption of responsibility for the emotional well-being of ourselves, relationships and our children.
The antidote to passive aggressive and violent communication is for us to get to know ourselves more and it means that we have to know our needs, wants and preferences, then pay attention to our adopted old ways of communication. This way we can unlearn and adopt functional ways of communication. Adopting new ways of communication requires trial and error, until it feels genuine and a comfortable part of us. Therefore, I invite you to be compassionate to yourself as you are attempting to adopt new ways of communicating with your loved ones. I also highly recommend asking for professional help as it will make the process much smoother.
One way of adopting new skills is learning about “The Dialogue Wheel”. The dialogue wheel is a concept that is borrowed from Love Knots by Lori Heyman, and can help nurture a non-violent form of communication that will foster more understanding and empathy in our relationships. What is unique about the dialogue wheel is that it covers all aspects of communication such as behavior, assumptions, feelings, hopes and needs. The person who begins the dialogue is usually assuming a sense of ownership to one’s needs and wants in the relationship. It will take a lot of courage to be the starter of this dialogue. The dialogue wheel progresses into 7 phases and it always begins with “I” statements.
- I notice…
- I assume …
- I feel…
- I am afraid…
- I want….
- I appreciate…
- I hope…
The following two examples compare the dysfunctional and functional ways of communications in a relationship.
Example of a dysfunctional form of communication
“Look at this mess! You always leave the dishes in the sink and I am tired of telling you to do the dishes and you never listen…Do you? I am sick of you being so messy and irresponsible…who does this? ”. [This way of communication involves blaming, criticizing, comparing and belittling and makes the listener highly defensive this way, he or she may freeze up, run away, or yell back].
What would you do if someone talks to you this way? It is important to answer this question to get to know yourself better.
Example of a functional form of communication
Substituting an aggressive way of communication and applying the dialogue wheel for a more functional way of communication may look like the following example.
“I notice that you leave the dishes in the sink and have being noticing them here for a few days. I assume you think that I should do the dishes every night and that this is the responsibility of a woman which leaves me feeling super annoyed and angry.
I am afraid that when you leave the dishes for this long, it distances you from me. This reminds of the times my father used to leave everything for my mom to do. I would like to let you know that I will now only do my own dishes unless you let me know you are doing your part on a regular basis. I appreciate your sense of being more laid back than me, and I hope both of us together can find ways to resolve the dish situation that is more reasonable to us both.
How would you feel if someone you love would talk to you in this way?