On This Day of Love, Give Communication a Second Thought

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Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Peter Glaser and Susan Glaser For The Register-Guard

This Valentine's Day, give your loved one the gift that keeps on giving: the practice of honest, healthy communication.

In a romantic relationship, healthy communication can mean the difference between celebrating a golden anniversary or fighting over who gets custody of your golden retriever in divorce court. Yet most people navigate through important moments of communication on automatic pilot, reacting from emotion rather than intention. We can transform our relationships by getting off auto-pilot and being proactive with positive communication.

As communication researchers and partners in work and marriage for 37 years, we've experienced both the joy and agony of personal and business communication and have found some simple steps to resolve conflict and build trust in relationships. Valentine's Day seems a fitting occasion to share our approach for communicating about tough issues. We've found that these steps can take the sting out of difficult conversations and create trust from conflict.

Listen when your impulse is to argue:

Listening, a rare and pure gift from the heart, requires that we be quiet long enough to ponder our partner's message. Instead of defending, explaining, disputing and discounting their concerns, consider asking yourself: What does this person wish I would understand? Then ask questions to more completely understand, and communicate what you are hearing. Before arguing your side, be certain that you absolutely grasp theirs.

Edit accusations:

Avoid statements that might make your partner feel put down, and instead describe your feelings. "I feel lonely" has a different ring than "you're selfish and unresponsive." By becoming accountable for our own emotions, our communication is less threatening to others.

Pinpoint details:

Even if a problem occurs repeatedly, describe a specific example, without offering your evaluation or interpretation. Most of us are willing to concede that on one occasion we made a mistake, but few want to accept the "fact" that we regularly screw things up.

Acknowledge your role in the problem:

Remember, every issue really does have another side. When we describe how we contributed, even unintentionally, to a problem, the other person is encouraged to hear us out. …