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K-State Today

July 24, 2013

Practice communication skills to grow relationships: Advice from a Research and Extension specialist

Submitted by Nancy B. Peterson

With June, the nation's most popular month for weddings behind us, a couples' communications expert has some commonsense advice for newly marrieds and others who want to strengthen their relationship and make the most of their life together.

While couples usually thrive on excitement and anticipation during courtship and dating, many are unprepared for the stress generated by a wedding, said Charlotte Shoup Olsen, a K-State Research and Extension family systems specialist.

The unexpected stress can threaten the relationship, said Olsen, who encourages newly married couples and others who value their relationships to make time for each other to grow and nurture their relationship.

"It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day demands of balancing our personal and professional lives, commitments to family, extended family and community, and take a relationship for granted," she said. 

In advising couples to reserve time for their relationship each day, Olsen suggested using the time to talk about events of their day to continue learning about each other and grow the relationship.

She does not advise using the time set aside for catching up with each other to air complaints, but does say establishing a regular pattern of communication can help couples build communications skills that can help them communicate more effectively when difficult conversations are needed. 

According to Olsen, nurturing their relationship can be the best gift a couple can give to themselves — and their family.

In considering effective communications skills for nurturing and growing relationships, Olsen's recommendations include:

  • Practice listening skills. Allow the other person to finish what he or she is saying, without jumping in — or jumping to a conclusion.
  • Consider your response before speaking, rather than blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.
  • Be aware of nonverbals that can carry more weight than words. Looking away when a spouse or partner is talking to you or walking out of a room in the middle of a conversation are examples.
  • Need to address a touchy topic? Set a time and place to discuss it, and opt for a "soft start," using "I" rather than "You" messages that suggest blame. Calmly saying: "Having to clean up the dirty dishes from everybody’s snacking will delay dinner" rather than an angry: "You left a mess in the kitchen!" is more likely to bring cooperation.
  • Acknowledge irritants for what they are, and set aside a time to talk about and resolve them, rather than allowing an issue to escalate. For example, if a wife comes from a family that gets up from the table and does the dishes immediately, and a husband from a family that prefers to leave the dishes for later, work together to come up with a plan that will satisfy both.
  • Be willing to compromise. If personal spending from a joint account is becoming an issue, develop a budget in which each spouse or partner has a personal allowance that is his or her money to save or spend as he or she wishes.
  • Focus on positive interaction, as it typically takes five positives to overcome a negative.
  • Be respectful — and appreciative. If both parties are tired, say "thank you" to the one who volunteers to go to the grocery store, fix a meal, or make life easier to ease the stress.
  • Nurture trust by being truthful and dependable; if breached, trust can be difficult to rebuild.
  • Make "No Needling" the rule — not doing anything intentionally to irritate the other person.
  • Be aware that sarcasm and putdowns can erode a relationship. Humor can break the ice, but it's best to make fun of yourself, rather than another.
  • Continue to date, as couples who continue to date continue to grow their relationship.
  • Be spontaneous, particularly in making everyday opportunities enjoyable — and fun.
  • Strive for balance in planning time together – and apart. Shared interests can be beneficial, but taking time to explore individual interests allows each partner or spouse to grow and bring more to a relationship.
  • Don't wait to seek help from a marriage or family counselor if having difficulty in resolving issues in your marriage.

More information on managing marriage and family relationships successfully is available at K-State Research and Extension offices in each of Kansas' 105 counties and online.