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By Hannah Mosser, MA, LPC

I was at the beach this past weekend and as I was walking on the sand, I heard a man respond to (whom I presume was) his wife, asking “How’d you f!&#*ing forget that?” Watching her facial expression change at this curt response, I imagined this was not out of the ordinary within their relationship. Moments later, I heard another couple interacting, jovially making jokes about where they should set up their umbrella for their day in the sun.

The stark contrast between these two interactions was not lost on me. (As a disclaimer, I was not intentionally eavesdropping on either pair!) Within Marriage Therapy in Ambler, PA or online counseling in Pennsylvania, I often observe a lack of knowledge regarding how to lovingly interact with one’s partner. I hear myself coaching frequently about the need for “I statements,” sharing how oneself is experiencing a disagreement or a situation, rather than telling the partner what they are doing wrong. The advantage of this is simple — it increases understanding between the two individuals involved. It allows Person A to understand how Person B is experiencing the situation that is occurring and why it is causing distress or friction to arise.

3 ways to use “I statements:”

  1. Always start with I.
  2. Include a feeling.
  3. Include a thought or a situation (be specific, don’t generalize).

Using “I” statements makes it clear to the other person what is troubling you. It keeps the conversation relevant and in the moment. It allows for resolution, and at the very least, it increases understanding. An example: “I am feeling disappointed because our plans have changed.” Simple? Yes, but also direct and indicating to one’s partner why you are experiencing the situation as you are.

When providing Marriage Counseling in Ambler, PA I often observe (and have to interrupt) clients speaking over each other or raising their voices. Maybe you think, “that sounds pretty normal to me.” And I agree. I think this is commonplace within our culture; whoever can yell the loudest will most satisfactorily get their point across. However, this idea is false and ill-informed. In reality, this causes Person A to have a raspy voice the next day and causes Person B to become defensive or disconnected from the person who is yelling. This leaves both individuals frustrated and dissatisfied. Not the most productive way of communicating, huh? The good news — there is another way. Let’s call this alternative way “calm communication.”

How to stay calm when communicating

  1. Maintain a level tone.
  2. Utilize “I” statements.
  3. Seek to understand.

The benefits of communicating calmly are immense. Most of us engage in conversation with a partner because we want to be known, we want to be heard, we want to be understood. Depending on the topic, it’s  challenging to remain calm, especially during arguments or disagreements. However, escalation stands in the way of truly hearing one another’s perspective and causes “disconnect” to occur. It’s difficult to lean into what your partner is saying (if you disagree with their perspective), but it provides understanding for why they experience a situation as they do. It allows room for compromise (depending on the topic perhaps). When both partners communicate in a way that increases understanding, you will both feel increasingly connected/understood. Even when you haven’t necessarily landed on the same page.

The Golden Rule

Lastly, remember an expression my mom said many, many times, while growing up, “treat others as you want to be treated.” The golden rule. Why is so challenging within our closest relationship? I think individuals get comfortable, leading to laziness and a lack of consideration for one another. It’s sad to name and acknowledge this, but it is often true. By nature, we are selfish human beings. I tend to want what I want, when I want it, and other people’s wants or needs can seem irrelevant. However, the ideal within a relationship is to put the other person’s needs or desires before one’s own (not in a way that neglects the self, of course). When both people approach it this way, the result is something special. 

When I consider how I want to be treated, it causes me to take an inventory of how I am treating others, especially my partner. I want to be treated with kindness. I want to be treated with respect. I want to be heard, seen, appreciated. I could go on and on, but essentially I value being treated like I matter. And I do — I absolutely should be treated kindly and with respect. And I absolutely want to treat others in this same way. 

Accept the challenge

I challenge you to take an inventory of your relationship: are you communicating with one another in a way that upholds each other? Are you fully listening to your partner while conversing with them, without formulating your response or rebuttal? Are you treating your spouse or your partner as you would like to be treated? Are they doing the same for you?

Don’t do it alone

If any of these words are resonating with or challenging you, I encourage you to reach out to myself or another counselor here at Lime Tree. We love to see individuals and relationships thriving, so if these are areas you are struggling with, we’d be honored to equip you with new skills to effectively communicate with the significant other in your life. Explore Marriage Counseling in Ambler, PA or online counseling in Pennsylvania and take your relationship to the next level.