As I counsel couples, individuals and families, I hear a lot about communication: "We don't communicate," or "We never learned to communicate about our feelings," or "I shut down rather than talk about my thoughts, dreams, fears." A lot of our communication patterns are learned in our family of origin. Maybe the only way your parents communicated with each other was by yelling, or perhaps when there was anger expressed, it was followed by hours, maybe even days, of silence. Or maybe the only time your father or mother talked to you directly was to criticize, rather than affirm you, so you never learned to give compliments or affirmations to your spouse and children. These patterns are picked up in childhood years and carried into our adult lives.
Here's a few principles of healthy communication:
- Healthy communication is the freedom to express your wants and needs without demanding.
- Healthy communication focuses on understanding others before attempting to "fix" them.
- Healthy communication is not reactive but responsive.
- Healthy communication involves developing reflective listening skills.
- Healthy communication in the midst of conflict involves talking it out rather than "taking it out" through verbal or physical violence or passive aggressive behavior.
- Healthy communication seeks to initiate talking when hurt instead of emotional distancing.
Tom Horst, Marriage and Family Therapist