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How To Communicate Better With A Spouse

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Dr. Kenney shares tips to enhance communication as a couple when sensitive topics need to be discussed.

Dr. Kenney:
If you are in a marriage you’ve encountered the need to talk about sensitive things, right? Stuff happens, you got to explore it, you got to dig into it and you got to fix it, all right? The challenge is that in some relationships people have not had the experience of or practiced having calm, rational discussions with somebody they love. They might have grown up in a family that’s full of drama. They might have a boss who is too extreme.

So the first thing I always work on when couples come to me and they want to enhance their communication is I tell them what the playing field of their communication is now going to be and this is where it’s going to live. Our communication, in here and at home for the time that we are hanging out and practicing together, is going to be within one standard deviation of the mean. It means that we are going to hang out right around here. We are not going to go up. We are not going to go down. We are not going to freak out. We are not going to yell, scream or lose it. We are actually going to take a breath and this is going to be the one safe place where we can talk right in here, and when we practice and when we learn that here you will be able to do it at home, all right?

So here are some strategies, if you are going to do it at home and not in someone’s office – number one is have an agreement regarding how you are going to communicate. What’s your actual methodology going to be, okay? When you think about it, how many times do people would just come up to you and say really sensitive, intense things or bring up topics and you don’t even know they are going to do it. You are totally shocked and unaware what’s that going to lead to. Is that going to lead to this, or is that going to lead to this? All right, so step one in the methodology is agree on a time and space to introduce topics. Don’t just throw them on each other, okay – that’s number one.

Number two is, agree to use ‘I’ statements. ‘I feel this; I feel that; I am hoping that’, instead of ‘you’, ‘you’, ‘you’, okay, because it doesn’t feel good to be blamed. It doesn’t feel good to be attacked and that’s why most kind of intense conversations fail because they are all about me telling you how horrible you are instead of me telling you what it is that I am needing of you, okay?

And number three is just make a polite request for a change. You know, you don’t have to give your spouse a big sermon about how horrible they are and bringing in other events – you don’t have to do that. Just think, what is the one behavior that you are helping to communicate about? What is the one thing you’d like them to change, and just request a polite change in their behavior. You will be shocked at how successful it is.

About Dr. Lynne Kenney, Psy.D.:
Lynne Kenney, Psy.D., is a mother of two, a practicing pediatric psychologist in Scottsdale, AZ, and the author of The Family Coach Method (St Lynn’s Press, Sept 2009). She has advanced fellowship training in forensic psychology and developmental pediatric psychology from Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School and Harbor-UCLA/UCLA Medical School. Dr. Kenney is currently a featured expert for Momtastic.com and Parentsask.com.

Visit Dr. Lynne Kenney at her Website

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