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Ask a Therapist: Positive Communication

Dr. Brad Schwall, PCC Executive Director, with:
Nestor Presas, LMFT-S and Elizabeth Busby, LMFT-A

From communicating about who's picking up the kids to discussing issues about the in-laws, how we communicate can greatly impact the health of our relationship. Building skills in communicating positively can help us increase the amount of positive interactions in our relationships and leave everyone involved feeling heard and respected. We asked two of the PCC clinicians who work with couples to share some best practices for communication.

Dr. Brad Schwall: What are your best communication tips?

Nestor Presas, LMFT: Empathy. Understand what the other person is coming from. Put yourself in their shoes. And empathize not just with their position but with the way that they're feeling, and that will immediately have a positive impact on the conflict. 

The acronym to remember is LUV. Listen, Understand, Validate.

Elizabeth Busby, LMFT-A: Empathy is important, and so is respect.

And one of the ways that one of my very favorite couples therapists, John Gottman, says to respect each other is to avoid what he calls the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” that come in and bring death to our relationship.

The first one is criticism. So be careful to avoid criticizing the other person, especially using big superlatives. “You always do this, you never do this,” you know, avoiding those.

The second is contempt, so avoiding calling people names like you are a jerk or other expletives. So avoiding
that because that's very disrespectful.

It also leads to the third one, defensiveness. So putting up walls and not really listening to the other person and kind of like throwing insults or throwing differences behind a wall.

And then the last one is stonewalling, so just shutting down completely. When the other person stops talking or starts talking and you just completely back down.

So, you can't really have healthy communicationif you have those four horsemen of the apocalypse running all over your marriage or your relationships.

Respect prevents these negative actions from taking hold in your relationship - being willing to engage in a healthy dialogue, listen to what the other person's saying and acknowledging that their opinion is just as important as yours, different but equal in dignity.

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Nestor Presas, LMFT-S

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Elizabeth Busby, LMFT-A