Step 6: Practicing Effective Communication

In working with the clients in my practice who are either in unfulfilling relationships or alone, I have discovered the steps they need to take and what they need to know and to find that perfect mate for them. This is the fourth in a series of articles on The Secrets to Creating a Loving “I-Thou” Relationship.

The Sixth Step in learning how to create a loving, committed relationship is to understand the importance of communication. What exactly is communication and why is it necessary to become a skilled practitioner at expressing verbally and in writing what we feel, think and do? In the fifth step we learned the importance of boundary setting, but if we don’t know how to let others know what our boundaries are, what good are they?

Before we go on to more about the Sixth Step to creating a loving “I-Thou” relationship, here are the first five steps:

  • The First Step to creating a loving “I-Thou” relationship is to recognize that we are complete and whole unto ourselves.
  • The Second Step to finding your soul mate and a happy, fulfilling, committed relationship is to understand your Family of Origin.
  • The Third Step to creating a loving “I-Thou” relationship is to become acutely aware of how we feel.
  • The Fourth Step to finding a happy, fulfilling, committed relationship is to understand that it is a wounded inner child which has never healed that goes out into the world looking for love, acceptance and companionship.
  • The Fifth Step in learning how to create a loving, committed relationship is to understand the importance of setting boundaries.

I remember thinking in my first year of graduate school “Why is there such an emphasis on good communication? Am I, as the therapist, supposed to teach my clients how to better communicate?

Don’t they already know how?” Nope, most people don’t. And neither did I!!! Those years in graduate school, the 3,000 supervised hours I earned as an intern and my many years of actual practice with hundreds of clients honed my skills as a solid, intuitive communicator.

Many clients have never seen good communication modeled for them in their family system or experienced it out in the world. So many clients have related sad stories of being berated by parents, lovers, employers and people in their daily comings and goings. Rather than saying “No, I am not comfortable being talked to like that,” they retreat into silence and sadness, with the final result being anxiety and depression. Or even worse, having no idea what another person is thinking, feeling or wanting from the interaction.

There is a wonderful alternative to suffering in silence: it is what we teach our children…”Use your words!”

The “I Message”

One of the most effective forms of communication is the “I Message,” a three-part technique for expressing our feelings. Here is an outline: I feel___________ when you do, or say, _________ because __________.

For example, “I feel scared that you will hit me when you yell at me because my parents always hit or spanked me when they yelled at me.” Wow, that is a really powerful, direct statement. There is no blame or accusation in the statement—just a clear communication of one’s feelings regarding their interaction.

How about “I feel you don’t really love me and will not be faithful to me when you flirt with other women/men at a party because my dad was flirtatious and cheated on my mother.” Could that person’s feelings be any clearer? And…there was no guilt inducing message in the communication—just a clear expression of how one feels.

I use the “I Message” technique quite often with couples. The couples that use the “I Message” develop a much healthier, honest and more intimate relationship. Isn’t this what we truly want and need? 

Being a good listener is a necessity for effective, clear communication.

Have you ever had something really bothering you and you just wanted someone to hear you, quietly be present for you, and look at you without saying a word? This is the concept of validation, a technique which every good therapist practices and which everybody can learn in order to improve their relationships personally and professionally. It’s really fun to teach clients the “I heard you say” technique.

OK, imagine you are a therapist working with a couple who started arguing out in the waiting room. I could hear the frustration and anger in the husband’s voice because his wife completely tuned him out as I had seen in our previous sessions. I quickly ran to the door, laughingly told them to control themselves until they got into my soundproof office. He was really mad, because his wife totally refused to listen to his feelings and thoughts regarding an unresolved issue.

I had them sit on opposite sides of the couch and explained that they should face one another and each would take a turn talking, and the other one had to LISTEN AND NOT SAY A WORD. I then explained that the silent partner, at the conclusion of the monologue, would have to say, “I heard you say” and repeat what was said almost verbatim.

Why? Because the talker was paid attention to and the silent partner had to listen and repeat what was said. Sounds easy? Well, it is not at first, but with dedication to learning this particular technique and adding it to your communication roster, relationships will grow in healthy directions which is a gift to all involved. 

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