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Happy Monday! There’s a lot going on today, this week, this month in my household and this is one of those times that I realized when things are going well, we fall short on building communication skills here.
It’s not that we don’t communicate when things are going well, it’s that communication is easy. We don’t have to fully explain anything. We don’t have to negotiate minor or major annoyances or disagreements. We fail to not only practice good communication, we fail to continue building better communication patterns and skills.
I doubt this is unique to our household.
I was trying to put aside the not entirely productive communication of this morning and focus on what I might write about here today when I came across a quote from the ubiquitous Chinese Proverbs attribution. “Dig the well before you are thirsty.” It deeply resonated in my today.
We don’t have a well today. We failed to dig it yesterday, last week, last month. Or rather we dug a well but it’s run dry in the drought of nuturing each other. We all bring our own unique family backgrounds, life challenges and learned communication (or non-communication) habits to the table and not all of us are active in wanting to learn skills to combat the habits. But it doesn’t have to take all of us learning skills at the same time for all of us to get better at communicating when we aren’t on the same page.
And that’s an important thing that can be difficult for parents. We all want to teach our children to be productive, happy adults. We want them to find spouses that they can grow stronger with and share their lives with. We them to be good partners to their spouses and create good lives and strong children of their own. And to do this we tell them a million things throughout their lives, starting with say thank you, share your toys and use your words.
We also need to remember to do those things as adults. Saying thank you can become a default response with no meaning behind it if we aren’t mindful. Sharing toys becomes sharing yourself which can be scary and harder to do as we grow out of one way of thinking or our lives change because as partners and parents we rely on continuity in our relationships and change in ourselves and our loved ones feels unstable. Use your words becomes negotiating conflicts, hurt feelings, talking out issues instead of arguing and letting your feelings create distance among you.
We know that children are going to do as they see at least as often as they are going to do as they are told. We tell them to say thank you, but if we don’t they won’t. We tell them to use their words, but if we don’t show them that words create partnership, strength and closeness then they won’t use their words for those things. They’ll only ever learn to use their words to say how they are feeling and not to building a bridge when two people are feeling at opposite ends of the universe.
Parental and family wellbeing need to include the ability to build those bridges, whether you are married, divorced, single-parent or step-family situations. The ability of adults, even when they aren’t in a romantic relationship, to communicate and negotiate the complicated world of adulthood and parenting is one of our greatest tools to raising children who can truly succeed when things are challenging, but also one of our greatest tools to making our world stable and successful for ourselves.
There are going to be times when the going is so good we forget to keeping an eye on our well. But without that well, nothing can thrive. Take some time this week to nurture the well and look at your ability to communicate the good and the bad. When we forget to let our partners in life know when we are happy, content and thriving, when the only time we seem to have a need to talk to them is when things are bad, we set ourselves up for them wonder if we are ever happy with life or with them. As parents we spend a lot of time nurturing our children, but we must also nurture ourselves and our adult relationships or risk the well running dry.
Ways to nurture your adult relationships include being mindfully appreciative when it’s good and easy. Be mindful of the work the other person does, even if it is something that comes easy to them. Be especially mindful of what the other person does when it’s not something that is default or usually done by them. Say thank you for being a part of the life you’re building and the future you are working towards. Talk about how you’d like something different in your life or your future than what you thought you wanted before that desire becomes anger and resentment. Do something you don’t want to do without having to be asked simply because you see that it would be important to your partner. It’s not just the little things that keep a relationship healthy, it’s being able to manage the big things before they are REALLY BIG THINGS.
If you start to realize your communication and closeness are strained, think about these three things:
*Be generous and thoughtful towards your spouse. It may not feel like what you want to do, and it may not be recognized right away. But it does build a stronger relationship. A 3 year old may not want to share his toy with a friend, but without occasionally sharing their toys, when they are 5 they won’t have realized playing with a friend can be more fun that just playing near a friend. As an adult, consciously and purposefully sharing not only your life but actively sharing in your partner’s life can be the difference between living with a person or simply living near a person who shares your bed.
*If you are about to respond to what someone said, you’re the most important person to setting the tone of how the conversation will go. This statement is true with every new response either of you are about to give. If what was said raises a deep emotion, take a breath and think twice. The emotion may simply be because we don’t like what we’re hearing, it may also be because we had no idea the other person was bottling up a feeling. And sometimes, it may be that you don’t understand what the other person is even attempting to say, but their emotion creates an emotion in us. Conversations are productive, arguments aren’t. Try to respond in a way that can open a conversation rather than perpetuate or cause an argument.
*Take a break away from the situation if you need to. This isn’t walking away from the issue or your partner. This is more a way of saying, I need to get away from the way my emotions are keeping me from being able to communicate. Some disagreements and arguments are small, unimportant matters that are being blown out of proportion, but some are issues that can’t be successfully navigated when we’re all riding the wave of emotion. Stepping away from a conversation can help everyone to realize which it is. It can allow everyone time to think over not only what they said, but what the other person said and how it was meant. It definitely gives everyone a chance to breathe and get their emotions under control. Again, don’t just say “whatever” and walk away. Don’t exclaim you can’t talk about this anymore and walk away. Taking a break from an argument or conversation is purposeful and should have the intent of coming back to the issue at hand within hours or a couple of days at most.