How many couples do you know who have complained that they "have a communication problem" or a "conflict resolution" problem? With most couples--dating or married, one partner tends to be more open in an aggressive way, whereas the second partner tends to be more closed and conflict avoidant in a passive or passive aggressive way. The result? A lack of resolution, as well as frustration, resentment, and other hurt feelings.
The goal of effective communication is for both partners to speak and respond "assertively": open, honest, clear, and direct, yet civil, respectful, and with consideration and sensitivity. In this article, I will review several helpful and useful assertive communication skills that will help you communicate and get on the same page with your dating partner (and eventual spouse?), especially when you are talking about sensitive, negative, "loaded" topics.
*I Statements: Try to begin your sentences with "I" when discussing wants, needs, feelings, and requests as much as possible. Saying "I feel_____", "I need_____", or "I would like_____" is usually going to be better than "You need to_____", "You make me feel_____", "You better_____ or else". Starting your sentences in these ways with an "I" helps to show that you are owning your wants, needs and feelings, rather than blaming or threatening the other for them. "I"s usually come across as more respectful in general than "yous".
*Be specific and don't generalize. If you are wanting to talk out a sensitive topic, keep your focus and statements on that and that alone. Keep your topic specific and clear. Avoid comments like "always", "never", "why can't you ever". Name calling and vague, generalized accusations and statements are a problem as well. If it's not clear what you are talking about, it's very unlikely you will be able to get the other to understand you and resolve issues and differences. In addition, name calling is the definition of generalizing in a negative way, usually leading to defensiveness, resentment, contempt, and counter attacks.
*Stick to the subject. As long as the discussion is fairly civil and respectful, it is usually best to try to stay on the same topic of conversation versus changing the topic. Different ways of switching the subject include switching who the conversation is about ("oh yeah, well you do the same thing"), or even to another topic altogether ("well what about the time when you…", or "I only did that because you…"). In short, one touchy topic is challenging enough to talk about. Bringing up several additional challenging topics makes productive conversation that much tougher to accomplish.
*Listen attentively. Stay in the listener's role until the other feels listened to, provided that the conversation is at least civil and respectful. Don't interrupt and offer validation, empathy, and agreement when you can. Look and act patient and interested. Good quality listening will build bridges and create resolution faster and better than arguments and contention.
*Bring up the past as minimally as possible to make your point. When talking about touchy topics, be careful to not overwhelm the other by bringing up too much of the negative past of the other. This tends to lead to defensiveness and overwhelm. If you go on and on about all of the different examples in the past where the other person made mistakes, their offense and resentment will likely overshadow and interfere with the point you are trying to make.
*Be a constructive peacemaker. Talk about negative topics mainly as an effort towards resolution, peace, understanding, and forgiveness. Choosing to bring up a negative topic will ideally be towards these aims and goals. Conversely, bringing up topics to counterattack, hurt, control, or exert power over the other will create defensiveness, resentment, contention, and withdrawal.
*Keep a civil, respectful tone of voice, body language, and facial expression. If you look or sound angry, contentious, and upset, the other will react defensively and productive, constructive communication will be tougher to achieve. This is the most important conversation skill. Practice your discussions in a video or audio player. Look and listen to your presentation style. Improve this and watch your overall assertiveness improve profoundly.
Review this list and practice all of these skills regularly with the opposite sex, as well as most everyone. Remember the old saying: you'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Another thought to remember: how would I feel if the other was talking to me that way? Do unto others as you would have others do with you (Matthew 7:12). Love thy neighbor as thyself (Luke 10:27). Because "…neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:11). Remember these concepts with your communication, and you will be well on your way to productive communication and conflict resolution. Best wishes,
About the author
Hello, my name is Dr. Randy Gilchrist (aka "Dr. G"). I am a licensed clinical psychologist, a licensed marriage & family therapist, and a certified hypnotherapist in private practice in Roseville, CA (www.dr-rg.com), practicing since 1997. Also, I am happily married in the temple (Manti) since 1996 and have 4 sons. I am a volunteer writer and contributor to LDS Dimension. I use my training, education, and experience to share insights with LDS Dimension on all things of interest to the LDS dating community. Please read my articles and columns on this site to assist you in your online dating journey. Also, to be considered for an answer in a future Q and A column, please email me your dating/relationship oriented questions to email@example.com. Finally, I also offer a powerful, effective worldwide custom hypnosis recording service just for LDS Dimension members for weight loss, pornography, and many other issues of concern to those in the LDS dating community (please learn more now at www.dr-rg.com/lds; email me questions to firstname.lastname@example.org).