August 2004, Message of the Month
Communication is key in any relationship. It can also be one of the most challenging parts of a relationship. Often, we are not brought up with great skills in this area in our families of origin. For most of us, this means we are developing this skill later on in life after realizing, by trial and error, that it is a needed skill.
Communication becomes even more essential when we are living in two homes. When two people are dealing with the aftermath of divorce and healing from the anger, pain, loss and rupture, communication usually suffers. When my parenting partner and I divorced, all of our past issues came into all of our discussions that were challenging. This just further complicated and delayed any possible problem resolution. I realized that I could not expect my partner to change, but I had the power to change myself. My work was obvious. I needed to stop re-acting in the same old pattern to my partner as I did in the past. I needed to act anew. I needed to break a habit I had which meant working more on myself than my partner.
I found that developing new skills of communication vastly affected our relationship even if my partner remained the same. I could change our pattern just by creating a vision for whom I would be during our discussions. One of the skills I worked on was listening. Often, we are so determined to get out point across that we do not listen to the person who is speaking to us. I learned a skill called reflective listening which means to mirror in your own words what someone has said. This is an effective tool because the person speaking feels they have been heard. Once someone has been heard, they are more likely to be able to listen to others speak or open up to new ideas and thoughts.
The next tool that was extremely helpful was learning to not own or take responsibility for other people’s feelings. This allowed us a completely different context of response. Defense is the most common response to discussing problems because most of us have been taught to react in anger instead of clear communication with resolution as a goal. In reaction to anger we, most often, want to seek shelter from the storm and this further exacerbates the problem.
Effective communication between parenting partners depends upon using good listening skills, letting each person take responsibility for their feelings and having a common goal of problem resolution. Using these skills together can lead to a very powerful connection between the people involved and be a great model for children who need to learn and use these skills as well.
Practice during the next challenging discussion staying calm, breathing and using reflective listening as a tool. Notice the changes occurring for yourself and the other person involved. Note what happens when the goal is not to lay blame and incite guilt, but to resolve a problem in an effective manner together. It will change your relationship and your families’ dynamic.
I Believe . . .