Productive Communications

by Harlee Abromson, LCSW, Director

When I ask couples why they’ve decided to seek counseling, the frequent reply is “communication!"

There’s a lot that needs to happen to get two people into a happier state. The purpose of this article is to touch upon some basic guidelines for arguing in order to illustrate certain communication techniques that improve relationships.

Most people in relationships argue. Sometimes people don't know how to argue productively. Past family traumas or poor relationship role models may have exposed us only to all-or-nothing explosive anger or a tuning out that represses feelings. But these aren't the only options. Take a look at the following techniques and see if you have room to make some changes in how you're communicating with your partner.

1. Use "I" statements to express how you feel while avoiding assaultive “you" statements and blaming.

Instead of assaulting with an accusation or blame, you might get a better result by saying how an offending action makes you feel. "I" statements that remove the assault, without the need to name-call, can open a seemingly blind eye. Perhaps your mate didn't realize how some prior action made you feel. When your perception is shared with authenticity, dignity and respect, your partner will see much more of the bigger picture. The new knowing can be the catalyst for true change and cooperation.

2. Don't make assumptions about what your partner thinks and feels. Clarify.

It's better to ask what your partner is thinking or feeling rather than assuming. Assuming can exacerbate misunderstandings and produce a destructive pattern of blame, suppression and anger. Remember that your partner is not a mind-reader. You are responsible for expressing your thoughts and feelings, too. There are so many wrong decisions made and so much unnecessary hurt from making assumptions. By setting aside any assumptions and making the choice to clarify each other’s thoughts with one another, a couple matures and achieves understanding; with understanding, good decisions are made and feelings toward each other become increasingly positive.

3. De-escalate overheating arguments.

Pausing to recess can be a kind and responsible act. This is not avoidance or dismissal, but a precautionary measure that acknowledges too much anger is preventing rational resolution. Remember to tell your partner four things: how you're feeling using "I" statements, where you're going, how long you will be gone and that you do want to resolve the issue. Tell your partner that you are afraid you might say or do something you regret. After a short break, such as a walk, you can revisit the issue

This is different than walking away while fueled by anger, which is the height of rejection and will only serve to cause further hurt. These four keys let your partner know you still care, even while angry and in need of space for the moment.

4. When arguing, stay in the context of the topic rather than the past.

When couples are arguing about going or not going to the in-laws for Sunday dinner, for example, it's important to stay within the context of the discussion. Separate unresolved past issues should be addressed at other times. If too often too many unresolved past issues invade each argument, realize this may be a sign to seek counseling to work through those accumulated issues.

5. You can communicate without words through nonviolent acts of care.

It's not always necessary to use words when communicating. Sometimes just a touch, hug or smile is all your partner needs to know you care when the day has been hard or a challenge looms ahead. A simple gesture, like bringing your partner a cup of coffee in the morning, is still communication.

6. Give reassurance.

Even when you're not getting along, you’ll go a long way to tell your partner you realize this moment is difficult, but you want to get through it and that it all will be ok.

7. Make time to talk.

Everyone is so busy with work, or finding work, or friends or family. Sometimes we forget the priority of the relationship. It's a good idea to set aside time on a regular basis to check in, clarify, reassure, plan. Constructive talking, after all, prevent arguments in the first place. It's so important to nurture your relationship, even in the midst of everyday obligations. Making your relationship central to the rest of your life provides security, stability and the love we all need to launch into our days happily and energetically.

If physical abuse is present in your relationship the time has come to take precautions. Although we may be dedicated deeply to someone, an argument should never become physical or involve the destruction of property. Should this be happening, please realize these steps may not be enough. Please call for help or immediately seek professional counseling.

Communication provides a bridge where couples meet to make their journey together more meaningful. It is the basis for all understanding and interaction. It is the cognitive component necessary for success. Even an argument can become productive if it restores and grows the communication in a relationship.

With motivation and commitment, healthy communication is not only possible, but can become a very natural way of interacting on a daily basis. It's a whole lot of fun, too.

Email Contact Harlee Abromson


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    1201 South Braddock Avenue, Suite 2, Pittsburgh, PA 15218
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    412-241-8552