Updated: Nov 5, 2022
As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I spend much of my day educating clients on effective communication skills. Identify your intricate emotion! Articulate your feelings! Be assertive! Knowing the rules of “how to” communicate is the entry ticket to any healthy relationship. Often surprisingly to my clients, knowing the rules of “how not to” communicate is just as essential.
Negative emotions, such as embarrassment, guilt or shame, are a part of the human experience. They even have an evolutionary purpose. Negative emotions signal to your brain that something needs to change and encourage us to make that change. However, we can all agree that negative emotions can be uncomfortable. As a result, people unconsciously employ ineffective communication tools to avoid feeling those unpleasant emotions. After all, if feels much more satisfying in the moment to blame your spouse for not cleaning the kitchen, then to embrace your feelings of inadequacy. Ineffective communication does not advance the conversation and in reality, makes conflict worse. Here are 3 communication pitfalls to avoid.
First, don’t say “always” or “never.” Overgeneralizing and using absolutes can be maladaptive and put the other person on the defense. Was there a time when the person did do what you had hoped? If so, replace “always” with “sometimes" or “often.”
Second, don’t use contempt. Renown couples researchers John and Jolie Gottman have discovered through extensive research that the use of contempt, or attacking a person’s sense of self with an intent to insult or abuse, is the greatest predictor of divorce. Avoid sarcasm, name-calling, eye-rolling and mockery. Instead, the Gottmans’ findings show, appreciation, gratitude, affection and respect for your partner daily are healthier antidotes.
Lastly, don’t label. Telling a person “you’re selfish” will only escalate your pain, as well as put the other person in defense mode. Alternatively, connect to the feeling inside of you. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Isolated? Powerless? Identifying and embracing your underlying emotion can bring you relief and is an invaluable building block of effective communication.
Do not aim for perfection with avoiding communication pitfalls. It doesn’t exist. Do your best and allow yourself to be human!
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Carly Cohen is Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who provides individual, couples and family therapy to teens and adults in Voorhees, NJ. Her expertise is in supporting those struggling with depression, anxiety, communication, self-esteem, relationships and grief by mixing compassion and emotional safety with therapeutic models. www.counselingcentersj.com