Many couples come to counseling stating they hope to improve their communication skills and deepen intimacy. Dr. John Gottman offers a basic conversational map for strengthening our emotional connection. According to Gottman, the first step is to listen non-defensively. Gottman also urges couples to communicate intentionally.
Gottman’s three skills and one rule:
The rule: Understanding precedes advice. Not many of us can engage in negotiation or problem-solving unless we first feel heard. The goal is understanding, not agreement.
Skill #1: Put Your Feelings into Words (and encourage your partner to do the same).
There are many emotion lists and emotion wheels available online. Using an appropriate emotional word to fit our emotion helps our body rest and our stress levels can decrease.
Skill #2: Ask Open-Ended Questions
Closed-ended questions involve asking questions that anticipate a yes or no answer. For instance, a closed-ended question: “Are you feeling better today?” Open-ended questions invite and offer the space for opening up and sharing more about our self. For example: “What is a childhood memory?” Or “What do you hope to do (or not do) on our upcoming vacation?”
Skill #3: Express Empathy
Empathy is understanding. Gottman means communicating to our partner that her needs, thoughts, and emotions make sense (again, this isn’t about agreement). Empathy in this context means given’s your spouse’s perceptions, his feelings and thoughts are valid and make sense.
If you want additional help practicing communication skills, contact a relationship expert here.
Additional reading by Gottman: What Makes Love Last