How to Communicate Effectively in Relationships

couple argues in forest man trying to explain while woman angrily listening looking at him
by Vance Larson

I was working with a couple, that on paper, were the perfect match. And in reality they are. So why are they working with a coach? For several reasons. But here lately, there have been some miscommunications and some arguments. And after I got both sides of their stories, I informed them that they were not paying attention to the TAT.

TAT? Yes, TAT. It stands for time and tone. Like many couples that I work with, for the most part, they enjoy a good a productive relationship. But they fall short when it comes time to express their feelings. I am speaking specifically when they have a difference of opinion. And the result, they end up getting into a disagreement, because they didn’t respect the time and tone. Let me explain.

Most of the couples that I deal with have a tendency to come in “hot” with their feelings. I encourage them to check the time and their tone prior to sharing their feelings. In other words, can you deliver your concerns without being accusatory? Can you talk about your feelings, rather than pointing out your partners shortcomings? The delivery is vital. Saying something to the effect like “You not helping me with the kids, is only damaging our relationship.” Verses, “I would like for you help me with the kids, because it makes me feel closer to you.” Big difference. One has a negative vibe, and does not motivate. The other is solution oriented, and inspires intimacy and change.

“Sometimes the timing distorts the meaning of the message.”

The other piece to TAT is time. Pick a time that is conducive for sharing your concerns. Sometimes the timing distorts the meaning of the message. In other words, if your partner is just walking in from work for example, give them an opportunity to settle in, get out of their work clothes, check email {or whatever their routine is} before you initiate this conversation. When we are in a relaxed state and a safe place, we exponentially increase the odds of having a productive conversation. Timing is everything.

Miscommunications are inevitable in every relationship, but we can minimize a negative outcome. The tone of our voice, and the time that we pick to engage, say’s a lot about the process, and if we respect it. Think about how many times your partner told you something at the most inopportune time, only to have you feeling like you were ambushed. Or, how many times did they try and articulate their point, only to have you go on the defensive, because you felt like you were being attacked? I can’t speak for everybody, but if my wife came to me and said “Do you have a minute? I am feeling scared because of {blank} that you are doing”, would be all that I need to hear to want to try and comfort her. However, if I was in the middle of paying the bills for example, and she started out by saying “I am really pissed because you blank”, would probably provoke a very different response from me.

Pay attention to the TAT. Yes, that means that sometimes you will have to sit with your discomfort for a bit longer. But, the alternative is miscommunication, hurt and defensive feelings. Check your tone. If you can think about it without your breathing increasing, you should be fine. In terms of the timing. Ask yourself would you be open to this conversation if you were doing what they were doing? If that’s a yes, by all means proceed. 

Get into the practice of noticing your tone and time. Because TAT (tone and time) has been saving relationships from the beginning of time.

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