3 Simple Steps to Improved Communication with Your Partner
A coaching client recently told us this: "I got a big knot in my stomach when I thought about talking to my husband about all the stepfamily issues in our relationship!" It's pretty common for most of us to feel that way.
No one wants to deliberately head into the storm of conflict with their partner. Often, it seems more reasonable to simply avoid difficult conversations altogether. But as we've learned from our own experience and while coaching other step-couples, avoidance doesn't make anything better.
The truth is that when we slip into avoidance mode, we usually end up with even deeper issues of conflict and disconnection. Some couples experience the explosions of all-out battle, while others feel the unspoken cold war.
Our motto: Avoid Avoidance!
Tackling Touchy Topics
Here are three simple ways you can approach touchy topics with more confidence and connection. This will not only safeguard your relationship from avoidance and disconnection; but you'll be equipped to tackle those sensitive issues within your step-family dynamic.
1. Get the Stories Straight
It's easy for couples to make assumptions about each other.
A step-mom recently shared that she had been intentionally giving her husband some space so he could spend time with his kids (her step-kids). She went on to say that he didn't seem to appreciate her efforts. Then her husband shared that when she did this, he believed she was either mad at him or his kids…or both!
This couple was surprised to learn the truth — she wasn't upset at all! She was just offering him an opportunity for one-on-one time with his kids. And he wasn't ungrateful, he just didn't realize the intentional thought process behind her actions.
The problem was they didn't communicate up front. She was trying to do the right thing for her husband and his kids. And he actually did want that one on one time with his kids. But their lack of communication led to false assumptions about each other.
Mike and I have learned the value of sharing 'the Stories in our Head' with each other. Sometimes, it's astounding how different our stories can be. We've discovered how to avoid misguided conclusions and unnecessary conflict simply by getting our stories straight.
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2. Cultivate your Communication Skills
Fortunately, healthy communication is a skill we can all learn — even if it was never modeled by our own parents. We can learn how to effectively communicate and resolve conflict in a healthy way. We don't have to slide into destructive patterns that keep us stuck.
It can be extremely damaging when couples get stuck in painful cycles of unresolved conflict. This opens the door for resentment and bitterness to set in. The results can be devastating.
The Gottman Institute shares some tips to remember when you're tackling touchy topics with your partner: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling will feed the fires conflict. Steer clear of these four toxic maneuvers and learn how to communicate without damaging your relationship.
There are many good books on communication out there. We highly recommend Crucial Conversations. The methods presented are practical and they can be used in all your relationships — with your kids and step-kids, an Ex-spouse, extended family members and co-workers. If you need to get some specialized help, don't hesitate to find a qualified counselor or coach.
3. Choose Vulnerability
Sometimes we're afraid to share with our partner what's really going on inside us. We're worried about what they'll think of us or maybe we're concerned their feelings will be hurt. Mike and I struggled through these kind of fears for years — holding back our true feelings just to "spare our partner". But in reality, we were attempting to spare ourselves.
In her book Rising Strong, author and researcher Brene' Brown says, "Vulnerability is not weakness, it's our greatest measure of courage." The ability to be real - to open ourselves up and vulnerably share with our partner takes courage. Especially when we need to discuss touchy stepfamily topics like parent-child allegiances, stuck insider or outsider struggles, prioritizing and so much more!
Healthy Steps Forward
Unfortunately, our fears can hold us back from getting to where we really want to be in our partnership: securely connected and able to work through challenging issues together. Don't let fear or avoidance keep you from taking steps forward toward healthy communication.
You'll discover (just like we did) that making a genuine effort to tackle touchy topics can make a huge difference in your relationship. Choose to come together and share your stories, invest in learning healthy communication skills and get vulnerable with each other!
QUESTION: What next step will you take to invest in healthy communication and break free from painful conflict in your partnership? Leave a comment below…