Much like regularly going to the gym to improve your strength and endurance, communication improves with practice, and communication exercises are a great way to strengthen your skills. No one is born with communication skills. Effective communication must be learned and continually practiced. When couples learn to use effective communication, their relationship often experiences a rebirth of affection, warmth and closeness.
Content and Feeling
Dr. John Gottman’s classic and indispensable book “A Couple's Guide to Communication” is a collection of practical skills for troubleshooting communication roadblocks. Dr. Gottman’s book contains practice exercises to help couples learn communication skills together. One practice exercise -- known as mirroring -- involves paraphrasing the content and then describing the emotion behind a partner’s message. Partners can trade off talking with providing feedback about the other’s conversational content and embedded emotions. With regular practice, partners will become increasingly accurate in truly understanding each other.
Create a Genogram
A genogram is an expanded version of the family tree. Where a family tree connects family relatives, a genogram diagrams communication patterns between those family members.
Begin by drawing a square for a male or a circle for a female and then symbols for each partner’s parents. Then connect each partner to his or her parents utilizing one line for a normal relationship, two lines for a close relationship and three lines for an extremely close relationship. Each partner can discuss how the strength of each connection affects communication patterns within their marriage. Spouses can regularly revisit their genogram, add new family members and talk about those new connections. Dr. Kathleen Galvin, Professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University, provides complete instructions on her website for completing your genogram.
Once a day, relay a positive memory to your partner. The consistent act of communicating a positive reminiscence to your spouse increases feelings of love, commitment and promotes positive behaviors in the relationship. In fact, practicing positivity actually retrains your mind from automatically seeing the negative side of events to actively looking for the positive. Negative statements are so harmful to a relationship that Dr. Gottman recommends communicating five positive statements for every negative statement a partner says to his or her spouse.
Assumptions are a byproduct of a couple’s closeness; partners often overestimate the completeness of their communication. Given the couple’s shared history, partners succumb to a “closeness bias” and just assume the other knows what he or she is thinking. To change this communication pattern, regularly relay instances where an assumption or a missing piece of a conversation created a breakdown in communication. Begin by saying, “I assume you know…” and provide the missing information.
- A Couple's Guide to Communication; John Gottman, Ph.D. et al.
- Northwestern University: Genograms: Constructing and Interpreting Interaction Patterns
- The Marriage Clinic; John Gottman, PhD
- University of Chicago: Couples Sometimes Communicate no Better Than Strangers, Study Finds
- California State University Stanislaus: Communication Exercise
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