Secret: Communication is not my strong suit. I don’t like to upset people and I naturally assume that everyone (particularly my husband) can read my mind and know exactly what it is that I want or need. Secret: I like to be right and being wrong isn’t fun. Secret: I work on this every single day and I still fail. Secret: My husband kind of can read my mind and that might be one of the my favorite things about him (as well as another notch on his “he’s the only reason she’s even remotely sane” belt). What I’ve learned about communication is that 1). I’m not good at it and 2). This advice really does help.
No More “You” and No More Blanket Statements
If there are two things I fail at continuously when it comes to communication it’s these. I tend to make a lot of “you” statements, such as “You weren’t listening,” and “You don’t understand,” and a lot of blanket statements such as, “You always do….” And “You never do….”. This is not effective communication. This leaves people feeling blamed and defensive and it’s a bad idea. Instead, I’m working on turning my “you” statements into “I” statements. For example, instead of accusing my husband of not listening I say, “I feel that you aren’t listening to me,” which leaves him open to admit that the game is more interesting than my earlier annoyance with the person who stole my vehicle’s emblem off the trunk at the grocery store or to tell me that I’m mistaken. Furthermore, I try hard not to make blanket statements, because he doesn’t always forget this or that, he forgets once and it aggravates me.
Separating the Person from the Situation
Something I’ve learned about communication is that it’s more effective when I separate the person from the problem. For example, the person who stole the emblem off my car is stupid (and I will not change my opinion about that…come on, who really does that?). However, when my daughter makes a mess she is not a messy person, she is not a slob; she behaves like a slob. When I remember that it’s not about the person but about the situation, it calms me down. After all, I’m not perfect and I do stupid things, but that doesn’t make me a stupid person – all the time.
In parenting, I’ve learned that I have to acknowledge and validate my children’s feelings or risk eventually pushing them away. I cannot look at my 4-year-old and say, “No, you are not afraid of the dark, you’re just trying to get out of going to bed on time,” because I’m telling her that her feelings don’t matter. I have to remember that as illogical as I might find someone’s feelings, I can’t invalidate them. Instead, I look at my daughter and say, “I know the dark can be scary sometimes, but mommy and daddy are in the next room and you are safe.” If need be, I will one day check for monsters and make a monster-hideout possibility check list we can go through before bed each night – that hasn’t happened yet, but I like to be prepared.