Recently I heard a story about a couple who struggled in their marriage for over 20 years. They had an age-old problem – communication.
This couple had everything anyone would ever want and lived a lifestyle of fame, success, and financial security. They were truly living the American Dream, but one thing was lacking.
In all their success, they couldn’t have meaningful and satisfying conversations. They didn’t know how to finish a conversation without great frustration, anger, or storming out of the room.
Many of us can relate to struggles in our relationships, so this is nothing to be surprised about, nor meant to point a finger.
I relate to this story. As a couple, Jonas and I were good at talking about anything except the things that mattered in our lives.
We were a happily married young couple, but we didn’t understand that each of us brought our family history into our marriage. Both of us came from families that didn’t know how to manage disagreements and conflict. So finishing a conversation meant we stop talking, and go about our ways. Of course, I never stopped the conversation in my head, but I would never verbalize what I was thinking.
Not finishing our conversations as a couple was our way of life from the beginning of our marriage. We look back and wonder how we managed to stay together. Why did we have so many conversations that ended up in frustration and unfinished? For us, the simple answer was, we didn’t know how.
I ended a conversation with silence because I didn’t know how to complete it. Over time the silence and the ongoing conversations in my head filled my mind and my heart, and one day it all exploded. I had enough of unfinished conversations, and so did Jonas. That day, Jonas said to me that we need to begin to communicate.
That was a new word in our vocabulary, but we began the discovery of having hard and meaningful conversations.
Meaningful conversations can finish the dialogue in disagreement without storming out of the room in anger or sulking quietly. The art of communication began to do its work in both of us. We learned how to have conversations that mattered and to finish them in ways that were not destructive to each other.
We put a handful of simple rules in place that day to help us communicate more effectively:
- Be sure we’re in a safe environment
- Respect each other
- Acknowledge each other’s feelings
- Feel safe in each other’s presence emotionally and physically
- Stay in the conversation long enough
- Give each other equal time to express your feelings without interruption
These things were unknown to both of us at that time. We began to practice, and the process revealed the truth and power of a line I heard hundreds of times – practice makes perfect.
That’s what we did, we practiced! Today we’re enjoying the effort it took, and as a result, we can finish our difficult conversations.
In addition to our rules, we also know now that effective communication has three parts:
- How the other person feels and thinks
- How I feel and think
- How we can resolve this
The goal is not an agreement but instead learning to resolve. Keep practicing your communication, and over time, you see the benefits in your relationships.