In the debut edition of Mother Knows Best, June-August, Ron Heilmann, local marriage and family counselor, outlined five ways couples can invest in their relationships. Syracuse Parent has featured an article on the ways he suggested: Be Intentional; Spend Time Together; Resolve Conflict in a Mutually Acceptable Manor; Use Reflective Listening Skills; Forgive the Other Person for Going Back to their Default Behavior. This is the final article in this series.
About 75 percent of all people who Ron Heilmann sees in his family and marriage therapy practice have a communication problem.
A large barrier to communication quite often, is our society’s refusal to acknowledge one another.
The word acknowledge means to “accept knowledge.” Unfortunately, Heilmann said, in our society, we equate acknowledging with agreeing.
“When someone else acknowledges you, you feel like you have visibility in their world,” said Heilmann. “When you feel acknowledged, it allows emotional healing to begin.”
Our society is considered a litigious one — one that is concerned with proving a court case and winning. This, unfortunately, trickles down into intimate relationships.
“Our culture is steeped in this kind of thinking. You might be articulate and well-versed and linguistically skilled at proving your case, but that doesn’t mean you are communicating with the other person, whether it’s your husband, your children or your parents. It means you are proving your point,” said Heilmann.
He encourages couples and families to use what he calls reflexive listening skills. When emotions run high, it’s easy to become defensive and shut the other person out. He says this is a technique, that when people use it, works toward healing relationships and prevents arguments from escalating.
“Any time anyone speaks, we filter it through our own unique experience,” said Heilmann.
When couples have to deal with emotionally charged issues this distortion is prevalent. Also, because things are emotionally charged, people get defensive when they “feel” like they are being accused of some kind of behavior that is causing the partner some kind of pain. “Being defensive” prevents communication, says Heilmann.
Reflective listening skills is the antidote to this problem.
Here’s how it works: Couples should come up with a hand signal when they’re going to use it. It slows the process down but does work. You wouldn’t use this in most communications, until they become emotionally charged.
After one person offers their communication the second person repeats what has been said in one’s own words (not mimicking word for word, but after digesting the meaning of what has been said and repeating it back.) Rarely, on the first pass does the receiver get it right because it was interpreted in light of the second person’s experience. The second person tries again, and again, until the first person says, “Yes, now you’ve got it!”
Then it is the second person’s turn to give a response and the first person does the same process of paraphrasing what was communicated.
This slows things down considerably and gives the best chance of communicating which is defined as: hearing a message; repeating the message until confirmation is given; then, a second message is transmitted and return paraphrase is accepted. This constitutes one “communication loop.”
Heilmann equated this to the infinity symbol.
It is not necessary to do this with every communiquÃ©; only when things are emotionally “loaded.”
“Imbedded in this process is the experience of being acknowledged which is the healing energy for emotional injury,” said Heilmann.
He’s witnessed couples use this method in his office. Where people get tripped on the most is either their refusal to try this at all or they repeat verbatim what the other party says, not digesting what their partner says.