In the exercise world, most of us have heard of Strength Training. “Strength training is a type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction, which builds the strength, anaerobic endurance, size of skeletal muscles and bone density. When properly performed, strength training can provide significant functional benefits and improvement in overall health and well-being.” (for rest of wikipedia article click link in upper right)
A strong healthy body is the results of muscles that are used, stretched and worked out. Muscles that are not used eventually atrophy.
The same is true in our relationship. When we don’t intentionally strengthen our relational muscles they eventually decline in their effectiveness.
When we talk about our relational muscles we are referring to the Big Muscles like “Communication” and “Conflict Resolution.” Communication is listed as one of the, if not the, primary reason for the failure of a relationship. Divorce is often attributed to issues like money, sex, blended families, infidelity, etc. The reality is money was not the cause of the divorce but the inability to communicate effectively and have conflict resolution around the issue of money led to the ending of the relationship. Most issues in relationships are solved with effective communication skills. Even issues like infidelity can be resolved through communication skills. Even conflict resolution is ultimately a communication skill. If this is the case then shouldn’t communication be a set of muscles that are not ignored but worked out and strengthened?
Strengthening your communication muscles
Communication is a huge topic and one that cannot be fully addressed in a blog of this nature. With that in mind we just want to highlight some basic strategies (exercises) to begin to work on these muscles. Think of the following like going to the “Communication Gym” and exercising different communication muscles.
1. Exercise Active Listening
Most misunderstandings in relationships happen somewhere between the ears and the mouth. Communication is about shared meaning not shared words. The problem is we spend more time talking or thinking about what we will say than we do honestly, intentionally, actively listening. Click here for a deeper dive into 10 tips for ACTIVE Listening.
2. Exercise Empathetic Listening
It is one thing to listen actively and another thing to listen empathetically. To have empathy is to “understand and share the feelings of another.” To listen empathetically is to listen with the intent of understanding the position of the speaker. It is an honest desire to know where the speaker is coming from and not just what they mean with the words they use but a deeper understanding of why or what causes them to feel the way they do.
3. Exercise Intentional Deeper Conversation
To really strengthen your communication skills you must move beyond surface level conversation and into intentional deeper conversations. Many couples stay at the comfort of casual conversation and don’t stretch their communication muscles by going into deeper level conversations that require different level skills. Easy to “talk about the weather.” Better and stronger communication is required to talk about your dreams and fears. Click here for 20 Questions for couples to go deeper.
4. Exercise Intentional Body Language
Communication is about shared meaning not shared words and oftentimes meaning is revealed in our body language not the words we use. Rolled eyes communicate. Folded arms communicate. Looking someone in the eyes and leaning in communicates. When you use INTENTIONAL body language you are using your body on purpose to communicate. For example if I want my spouse to know that she has my attention I intentionally look at her and lean in.
5. Exercise Intentional Tone of Voice
Tone of voice matters and communicates “volumes.” What happens when you “turn up the volume?” What happens when you “turn it down” and whisper? When you think about it and use your tone of voice on purpose you can radically change the effectiveness of your communication. Most people don’t stop to think about their tone of voice and using it to communicate intentionally. Tone is usually discussed in reactionary terms not intentional terms. Tone of voice is a communication strategy.
6. Exercise Intentional Word Usage
“YOU ALWAYS treat me like trash“… communicates something very different from “When you did that, I felt like trash.” The words you choose to use matter. When you exercise INTENTIONAL word usage you are thinking and communicating at a different level. A great deal of communication problems in relationships are the result of not being intentional and thinking about what we are saying and how it will come across.
The Ripple Effect of Good Communication
- Personal Confidence
- Relational Fulfillment
- Financial Growth
- Parental Development
- Social Engagement
- Spiritual Dynamics
Bottom Line – Invest in mastering the art of communication and take your entire life to the next level!