By Ashley Shulski, Military Spouses of Strength Director of Programs
In honor of Memorial Day this year, I am focusing on how to improve communication with your loved ones, especially our veterans. It is no secret that having good communication with your significant other improves the relationship. Being a good listener is just one part of effective communication. How we listen to others can and will affect our relationships. Knowing how to make someone feel safe in speaking to you as a confidante should be your goal as it helps maintain and grow strong alliances. Conversely, not having the right tools for effective communication with your veteran can increase the risk of developing mental health problems. (Greene et al, 2010)
One main way to improve communication is by using “active constructive responding”, i.e. expressing involvement, excitement or enthusiasm about another person’s positive event he or she wants to share with you. In order to respond in this manner, you must show the other person you care about them, even if you don’t care about their news. It isn’t about you but about them. Being wholeheartedly interested in what they have to say to you and asking a few simple questions will show you understand their perspective and that they matter to you. Isn’t this what is important in any relationship anyway?
Don’t interrupt. When you interrupt you not only have to keep track of your own thoughts, but you also are encouraging both parties to speed up the conversation and speech, which can bring anxiousness, nervousness, and irritability. Instead, listen actively by making eye contact and showing the other person you are interested. Once the other person is done speaking, ask additional questions about the event, seek additional details, elaborate on the benefits of the information shared with you, and even comment to the other person why that conversation is meaningful to you.
If you practice this way of effective communication with your loved ones, you will find they will communicate more often in this same manner. Using “active constructive responding” is like a healthy diet. If you use it in all conversations the relationships can withstand and will become stronger and more open.
Greene, PhD, T., Buckman, BSc, J., Dandeker, PhD, C., & Greenberg, Surg Cdr, MC RN, N. (2010). How Communication With Families Can Both Help and Hinder Service Members’ Mental Health and Occupational Effectiveness on Deployment. Military Medicine.