Q. I don’t understand why communicating is so difficult. My husband and I struggle with verbalizing honest thoughts and feelings. Does this ever get easier? — Jan

A. Healthy communication does get easier with ongoing practice and the commitment to stay with it. Think of it like taking care of a plant. You need to water, feed, spray and maybe transfer to bigger pot so it will continue to thrive. Relationships need the same care.
Here are some tips on what NOT to say:
1. I’M FINE – If your partner asks you if you are ok…..don’t say fine! Be honest.
2. NOTHING – If your partner asks you what is wrong…… that means he/she can tell something is different about you.
3. NEVER/ALWAYS – Avoid responses that start with “You never and You always.”
4. YOU – Avoid starting a sentence with you, i.e., “You should have asked more questions.” This has a tendency to sound accusatory and can put the person on the defense.
5. SHOULD – This word can be very shaming. Instead of using SHOULD, use COULD. Try this for yourself. “You should have left earlier and would not have been late. You could have left earlier and been on time.”
Stating exactly what we are feeling is another big issue for many of us. If you are angry, do you say it or do you dance around it? The 24 hour anger rule can be of great value. If someone makes you angry you have 24 hours to TELL THAT PERSON or LET IT GO!!!
The idea is to avoid The Dance!! Couples get into some crazy dance steps with ineffective communication. It you can say “I am frustrated” or “I am sad” then you can talk about those feelings.
Open, honest communication requires vulnerability. To share your thoughts and feelings with the person you love is not always easy. But if your partner asks you directly, “what is wrong” or “are you ok” this is your opportunity to just say it. This is not the time to say “I am fine” or “nothing is wrong.” Remember no one will ask unless something about your mood or behavior is signaling there is a problem.
Healthy communication is nurturing and productive. It is a win-win!! So Jan don’t give up. It will never be perfect, it won’t happen every time. It is a work in progress!!

Vicki L Mayfield, M.Ed., R.N., LMFT Marriage and Family Therapy Oklahoma City

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