Back to the Basics: Improving Communication in Your Family (Part 1)

Do you remember the ‘golden rules’ that we all learned in kindergarten—the simple rules that taught us how to be polite and respectful of others? We do a great job of being courteous to strangers and acquaintances, so we clearly remember what we have learned. So where does all of this knowledge go when we get home to our families and spouses, the people that matter the most to us? Why is it that we hurt the people most who mean the most to us? I think in large part it is due to the fact that we don’t feel the need for pretense around the people we are closest to, which is a relief and a blessing to not have to act a certain way around them. This is one of the great things our families do for us, in providing a safe and comfortable environment where we can let it all hang out and still feel secure and loved. However, so many family conflicts would be minimized, resolved, or non-existent if we remembered to apply those basic kindergarten rules even in our homes. This is the first of a four part series that will focus on bringing this idea into our family lives on a consistent basis.

“Use nice words.” I am not just talking about ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ here, although those should always be a part of the vocabulary. Speaking kindly to one another in word and in tone communicates care and respect. Sometimes a polite request can be completely undermined by the tone used (and it’s not just teenagers who have mastered the art of sarcasm and eye-rolling!) Studies have shown that body language and tone communicate more to a person than the actual words being spoken, so be aware of this when making or responding to a request.

Along the ‘nice word’ theme, I am also a believer in banning curse words, at least during times of conflict and important discussions, if not altogether.  Swearing is a surefire way to increase the intensity of a conflict rather than helping to cool things down. Think of what your intention is whenever you use a curse word….to stress a point, to express how deeply affected you are by something, to hurt, to get attention. Unfortunately, we undermine our effectiveness in expressing these things when we choose certain words, because the focus then goes to the volatility of the language we are using rather than to the point we are trying to make. When someone uses a curse word when speaking to you during a conflict, does it make you want to calmly pay attention to what they have to say? It shuts down communication and increases hostility and destructive responses, and will only add to your feelings of frustration. When you are tempted to curse, think about what is motivating you to do so and try expressing that directly (i.e. “I get so frustrated and feel so helpless when you don’t take the time to listen to something that is really important to me.”)

If this is new for you, it will be challenging at first to curb the impulse to say what you normally would, especially in the heat of the moment. But you have a simple choice to make- do you want to improve communication with your spouse and family, or not? I realize that this may not be new or enlightening information for many of us, so let it serve as a reminder to be more mindful of what we say and how we say it, especially with our loved ones. Not only will they appreciate the added respect it shows them, it will also increase our chances of being truly heard and respected in return.

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