Communication Skills

Communication skills are essential to healthy relationships!

That may seem like an obvious statement however, the number of relationships where this actually exists is rather limiting; follow along this week so you can decide whether your relationships have a healthy style or some unique variation upon this key skill set. For many of us we communicate based upon the stylings of our parental role models (some of you just began to worry a little, I know). Very few people will actually take a course in their lifetime related to healthy communication patterns and so we are left to the functionality or lack thereof from those early exposed models. If you came from a healthy communicative environment this is less of an issue as long as your friends and partner additionally had access to this type of style as it takes two to perform this intricate dance.

I remember hearing in a class back in my under-grad years on communication that “you cannot not communicate” (and not because it is a double negative). That statement stayed with me–we are always communicating! Our very existence is a form of communication; however, I will avoid the existential discussion surrounding this concept. I will instead focus upon the concrete examples of how this unfolds. When we enter a room with others present, we begin communication with our very body language–are we smiling, frowning, walking fast, looking up/down, etc. Our body language is essential to the communication process; what we do not verbally say will matter more to others than what we do say (I will illustrate this more later). When we open our mouths to talk, our speech is influenced by tone, pitch, intonation, and of course, the words that we choose to utilize in the discussion.

A portion of good communication centers upon these two areas (non-verbal and verbal) complimenting each other. Good communicators will intentionally make efforts to ensure that their verbal communication lines up with their non-verbal messaging. If you are angry yet you say to someone “I am not angry” whilst pounding your fist on a table which message do you think they will believe. This is but one example of where body language over-rules verbal messaging. Communication is a complex process of interpreting and re-interpreting the features contributing to the process. On a day-to-day basis, we generally perform this dance without a thought and without a glitch quite easily. This is because we typically allow others a large area of interpretation. Where it often becomes problematic is when the issue being discussed is important to both parties and where two people are operating from differing communication platforms. Later in the week, I will explore healthy communication platforms. For today, pay attention to the complexities of verbal and non-verbal messages in others and in yourself, you may find the “dance” more interesting.


Communiciation Skills: Talking

Research studies in the area of separation/divorce used to report that the major causes for divorce were money, sex, and issues with respect to children. What has become clearer is that those issues are simply “life” happening and the bigger issue is the way people deal with those concerns, often from a communicative stance. Our last blog left off on the requirement that it takes two to come to this “dance” we call communication. I would go further to state that it also takes two with the same rules or “playing field” for this process to be healthy. I have witnessed some very impressive communicators over the course of my career and one of the things I have discovered is that two people well trained in communication will experience similar issues to those with no training if they are operating from differing stances. It is important that couples communicate from the same framework to avoid escalation of conflict simply because of process issues.

Here is a framework for healthy communication–all messages need to contain the following pieces of information; Sensing Information(the facts of the event or issue), Meaning Information (our interpretation of those facts), Feeling Information (how we feel about the facts and our meaning), Consequential Information (what has been the consequence to us as a result of the issue), andBehavioral Information (what are we willing to do different or what are we requesting our partner do different because of this issue).

Example–I have asked you to talk to me about the kids before changing our rules (sensing). Since this did not occur, I question whether you are still interested in doing it (meaning), and I am frustrated (feeling) having to ask for this to occur again. The kids rarely take me seriously as a result (consequence), so I would like to see this pattern change as we move forward (behavioral consequence).

In the above example, there is limited room for the other person to misunderstand what the concern is and what is being requested as a result. This is one part to better communication–reducing miscommunication.

Here are some additional methods to improve your communication patterns;
• Think before you speak
• Check your non-verbal behavior
• Use “I” statements
• Seek to preserve the other person’s dignity
• Face the person you are speaking to squarely
• Maintain frequent but not fixed eye contact
• Nod your head to indicate you are listening to the other person
• Keep an open body stance or position
• Lean slightly forward
• Listen and watch for their non-verbal cues
• Become aware of your own biases with respect to statements, phrases, words, etc.
• Increase your vocabulary
• Above all, ask for clarification throughout the communication exchange

The next blog will explore the other key feature to communication—Listening!!


Being ‘Other Centred’

Our last discussion was on “spending time together”; this is a key ingredient to developing intimacy with one another. In the vast majority of assessments that I conduct with couples a common theme is related to men wanting more sex and women wanting to be loved. This confuses most males as they believe and associate sex as being synonymous with love and cannot understand why if their partners want more love yet they turn down sex! I will come back to this point.

There is a simplistic way that both sides can win in this issue. I will start with males; let me be very clear…if you do not spend time with your partner yet expect her to have sex with you, it is NOT going to happen. Women, if your spouse is meeting your needs (which I will speak to on how) and actively engaged in the relationship, sex is not a punishment tool…if you have an issue with your spouses behavior use good communication and conflict resolution skills to resolve these versus withholding sex.

Once you have re-engaged spending time together, the next hurdle is meeting each other’s needs in meaningful ways. Relationships’ cannot have true intimacy without the needs being met within the relationship–intimacy be it sexual, physical, emotional, spiritual, or intellectual is driven by people who understand and meet the needs of their partner. One way to accomplish the task is to simply ask! So many couples somehow believe that their partner should just be able to know what their needs are and will go years’ not telling them…this somehow does not make sense.

There are two ways to meet the needs of your partner and both are important. The first is becoming “other centered”. The best way to explain this concept goes back to the start of your relationship; if you reflect upon this time period, both of you spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about, talking about, and actively doing “nice” things for each other. You likely drove your friends and family nuts with all your talk about this new person–they likely didn’t want to hear their name again in any context or sentence because of how driven you were to focus upon this individual. If you think about where you are now in your relationship, when was the last time you spoke kindly about your partner? Interesting isn’t it?

To become “other centered” you need to answer and act upon one simply question everyday of your life–“what could I do today that would make my partners life better”? Then do it! You need to re-engage that behavior that says he or she is important to me and I am going to show it. This does not have to be “big” things; in fact, it should be the everyday small things that are attended to here. Our society has gone overboard on the concept of co-dependent relationships to the degree that if someone is “other centered” they are labeled as co-dependent–there is a huge difference between these two relational positions. Another part to being “other centered” is to make important decisions with your partner and imagine they can see everything you can do–would you still be doing it; if the answer is no, then stop it!

Somewhere in your relationship you likely went from asking, “What can I do for this person” to “What am I getting out of being here”—the day those questions switched is the day you began to grow apart and not together anymore. A healthy relationship is inter-dependentand a piece to this is treating your partner in ways that show they are important to you. More to come….



There are a number of key features that contribute to well managed stress living. In previous blogs, I have identified some of these activities however to reiterate here is a reminder list of some good stress management practices

• Proper sleep and appetite schedules
• Adequate weekly exercise
• Appropriate medical and mental health check-ups
• Spiritual connectedness
• Use of stress reduction exercises
• Lifestyle balance activities
• and today’s blog—Healthy Friendships

Healthy friendships are not easy to find, take time in their development, require meaningful attention, and produce some of the most wonderful rewards.

In my psychotherapeutic work, one of the key questions that I ask all patients during the assessment phase is “Do you have someone that you are able to talk to about anything and everything within your world”? A significant number of people do not have this type of resource at their disposal. There are those who place their spouse in this position (which is not necessarily a bad thing, however having another person outside of our primary relationships is still valuable). In addition, there are those who have many people who each have small pieces to the puzzle but no one with all the knowledge (this is often a trust issue).

So why have someone who you can talk to about anything and everything? Being able to talk about ANYTHING shows the ability for non-judgmental discussions around all that is “life”. Being able to talk about EVERYTHING shows trust and acceptance. More often than not females are better at this task than males. Females are socialized for this type of behavior while males are often discouraged to enter this type of relationship with another male. One area for concern is that this lack of connectedness can cause a significant issue with males if their respective spouse dies before they do. They can be left both alone and very lonely whereas females have a higher likelihood of having people that they can still reach out to in the world.

Additionally to trust, acceptance, and a non-judgmental environment is the benefit of having a place to vent or a sounding board in life. This is where stress reduction can take place in a healthy friendship—it is a place to empty. It is a place where one can be supported and cared for, and it is a place of reciprocity where one can feel the benefit of helping another.

Next, we will explore how to develop healthy friendships and what to look for in negative friendships.


Developing Healthy Friendships

Today we will look at what comprises a Healthy Friendship. These are based upon a number of key features that differentiate them from someone who is an Acquaintance. Albeit that having acquaintances is important; as an acquaintance fills some of the following roles

• socialization without risk or significant effort: either individual or larger group
• exposures an individual to a wide range of interests, views, and beliefs
• provides knowledge on multiple topics that may otherwise not be explored

The main thing that is missing in an acquaintance is the meeting of deeper psychological needs for trust, acceptance, love, and non-judgmental evaluation.

Here are a few characteristics to a Healthy Friendship…

  • shared interests and flexibility for individual pursuits of external interests
  • equitable levels of openness
  • supportive and non-judgmental
  • you are a priority to each other with respect to time commitments
  • you see each other’s as equals: no one person is elevated over the other
  • there is no control over the other person (overt or covert)
  • there is an equitable level of appropriate self-disclosure and open communication
  • it is a safe place to be emotionally expressive
  • selflessness; doing things for others that carry a real cost (time, money, risk) to yourself
  • there is forgiveness and acceptance
  • there are genuine non-sexual expressions of love and caring
  • there is a desire to assist in the growth and development of the other (where possible)

As you can see these are characteristics that require time, effort, investment, and most of all trust. Building friendships takes years. Most people that are in a healthy intimate relationship only have time for a couple of “friends” in their life due to the commitments that accompany a healthy friendship. There are vast rewards that come from these investments from a psychological and health perspective—one of which is stress reduction as mentioned earlier.

Explore your world; how many “friends” do you have, do you need to build additional friendships and if so who might be a person that could fill that position, do you have too many friendships that are taking away from your partner or family relationships? Answers to these questions can produce balance.


Friendships – Negative Characteristics

Like any relationship, Friendships can go sideways too.

Not everyone is well versed in the behaviors associated with a Healthy Friendship and when this happens, it is important to seek a corrective solution or dissolve the friendship. Negative friendships will drain every ounce of your energy and good will—thus eliminating all of the benefits and reasons for having the friendship in the first place.

Some of the people that cross our paths are not meant to be lifelong friends. As the saying states—, “Some will come across your path for a reason, a season, or a lifetime”. Where negative characteristics present, be cautious about moving forward and put appropriate boundaries in place to minimize the detrimental impacts.

Listed below are some of the more common “Negative Friendship” characteristics…

guilt: is used to influence behavior or have needs met
covert manipulation: is an under-current to gain control and when caught denied
selfishness: is either not doing things for the other or only doing those things that really are not a “cost” (financial or other) to you
possessiveness: attempts at isolating the other person to ensure you have them to yourself
crossing of boundaries: is emotional, sexual, or physical (through direct request or action taking)
control: is the action of one person typically “getting their way” the majority of the time
oppression: there is a desire to keep the person where they are at so they do not leave or gain equality

Healthy friendships take time to develop and these should be approached with an open heart and a cautious spirit. Friendships are built upon appropriate and elevating levels of risks.