Reduce stress in your relationships: 3 ways to improve communication with your loved ones
In case you’re just joining, we’ve spent the last month(ish) focusing on healthy and lasting approaches to stress reduction. The previous article about overlooked toxins in the home was one of our most viewed articles to date, be sure you check it out if you haven’t. Our conversation with Kirsten Cobabe was so beneficial and applicable, we had to break it into 2 blog posts to parse out the insights for you.
Part 2: Reducing Stress Levels at Home through Effective Communication with Loved Ones
This week we're focusing on effective communication and reflective listening to diffuse stress in the home. These techniques are intended to help you get closer through the tough phases instead of growing apart. If we’re taking an honest look at our lives and relationships, we could all benefit from an evolved way to approach and handle difficult conversations.
As a couple striving to create a successful business together, we’re faced with intense discussions on a weekly, if not daily basis. This often forces tough, emotional conversations to happen. The take-aways from this interview have been hugely helpful and more importantly, very applicable in our lives right now. Shifting one’s response towards validation rather than ‘let me solve this’ has made a huge difference for us, and it can for you too. Learn about this and the other changes in our interview with counselor Kirsten Cobabe, MSW.
When someone we love (spouse, partner, child, friend, etc) expresses that he or she is feeling very ‘stressed out’ by life, where do you take the conversation?
"This is becoming increasingly more common with people of all ages. I start by focusing on the present moment and reflectively listening to provide validation for what they are going through. In doing this I’m modeling what I want them to do in conversations. We all need validation from the present feeling and moment, yet we rarely get it."
How do we get better at practicing reflective listening and validation in our conversations?
"It takes a bit of work to override our learned behavior of jumping into ‘fix-it’ mode. Instead of moving on to solutions or focusing on the external factors, stay in that moment by going towards the emotion your loved one is feeling. For example, “Ya, I’m here with you and that sounds very difficult, tell me more about what’s going through your mind or body.” Sometimes it’s as simple as echoing what you’re hearing back to him or her, instead of saying much at all. Without validation a relationship suffers."
What are some of the common struggles you see between loved ones when it comes to connection and communication?
"We really have a hard time being present with one another. We know the brain is not good at multitasking in other areas of life, the same is true for conversations. We spend so much time not being present that we have to be conscious about communication techniques to override the tendency."
I know Jason and I are definitely guilty of being on our phones while the other person is trying to have a conversation, and I’ve heard my friends share similar grievances with their partners.
What are some techniques we can implement to minimize this bad habit?
- Recognize why the behavior may be happening instead of blaming the technology. In the case of social media, our partners and kids are actually yearning for more connection. We’re not addressing our instinctual, primal need for connection with each other. Social media provides a quick dose of that.
- Model the type of communication and relationship we want to have. Be respectful of each other, and genuinely express how you’re feeling in the present moment. It takes a little time, but modeling is more effective for behavior change than telling someone what to do.
- Release expectation and experience presence. We do this by validating what the person is saying and feeling. Validation is not enabling, it’s demonstrating acceptance and compassion. Don’t expect someone to be something different than who she is right now. When you can process uncomfortable emotions instead of running away from them, it creates a doorway for the life you want together.
Such a good approach to try! What are some things to stay away from during these moments and conversations?
"If someone is anxious or upset never say “Calm Down”, instead try “Yes, you’re overwhelmed and anxious.” Go into it with them versus jumping to try solving it, which feels invalidating.
We often don’t validate because we think it’s enabling, but the two are very different. Here’s an example with a parent and teenager who says he doesn’t want to go to school, “Yes school is so hard sometimes, tell me more about that...” This should be communicated in a genuinely curious manner.
Sometimes what we perceive as selfish is actually someone developing their identity, this is especially true for teenagers. We want the people we love to have permission to explore who they are so they can have a sense of purpose in the future."
We always love chatting with Kirsten, she’s such a warm friend and demonstrates what true presence and listening should feel like. She’s helped us uncover and navigate a variety of stressors in modern life and we’re grateful for her advice.
Kirsten’s primary mission at the moment is helping parents raise their consciousness, to raise the next generation. She enables them to learn the simple skills to have a relationship with their child and talk about anything. If you’re interested in learning more visit her website or explore her resources for parents in the Raising Unicorns program.