How to talk so your partner listens and your stepfamily thrives
By Jo Ball - The Stepfamily Coach
Lots and lots of us in stepfamilies find it difficult to talk through sensitive issues with our partner. Sometimes it seems impossible to communicate without arguments over the children or the ex partner.
How does this impact our ability to work effectively as a 'family team'?
Difficult communication usually results in leaving us feeling like life in a stepfamily is a hard slog. The thing is, if we don't talk things through we will never manage to sort things out.
Is communication harder for men?
In John Grey's amazing book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (inc Amazon link). We know that the Martians on Mars are fixers and if they can't fix it they go to their cave, on their own, and mull it over until they can fix it.
Woman on the other hand tend to want to talk about their feelings and just want to be listened too. Often we don't want fixes, we just want understanding.
When men hear we are feeling upset about something they want to fix it but they may not always know how so they can prefer not to talk about it at all.
In a stepfamily there are likely to be a whole array of deep running emotions. Many of these need exploring, understanding and at times dealing with. And this is where it can become challenging for a man that finds it difficult to talk about such things, even with the love of his life you.
For example, my own partner recently he told me that sometimes, even though he knows I have a valid point can't talk about it. That's because he isn't quite sure how he'll handle it. As a result he withdraws from the conversation occasionally for weeks! He's explained to me that it's not because he's avoiding the issue it's just that he doesn't yet know how to solve it yet.
This is an important insight into the mind of the male.
Because men are fixers, they can seem defensive when it comes to matters connected to their emotions especially when it's as emotive as their children. This could occur in a variety of ways from becoming defensive over their children or even over their children's mother. Their defences are simply a way of protecting themselves, maybe from pain or maybe from acknowledging their perceived shortcomings.
If we fail to talk to someone experiencing these strong emotions in the right way we could simply become the catalyst for them feeling like they need to add more barriers to their defences. This results in them shutting us out.
What's the long-term impact?
The more often they close down, the more we become perceived as being the enemy.
By understanding this it can help us to help them, which in tern helps our relationship and ultimately our stepfamily. If we can show empathy, compassion and understanding we can make them feel safe and secure in talking things through. They'll feel they can open up without judgement or criticism.
Here are a few suggestions that will help you help your partner talk
Become aware of what could be going on behind your partner's responses and reactions. Think about how they might be feeling and why they might be reacting in this way. Consider what you know of them and their life to date and how those experiences might be impacting how they react to you now.
Also become aware of how you approach your partner on subjects that cause them difficulty. It is a far less confrontational way of going about things if you can come from your own perspective first, which brings us on to
Be gentle with yourself and others. Bring up your own issues first and take responsibility for how you are feeling, e.g. "I get these insecurities and I just want to talk to you about them
" moving on to empathising, e.g. "I wonder if part of you feeling bad about Y is because of Z and that must have been difficult. I really don't like you feeling like. How can we help each other more?" The idea shows compassion. This idea can help both of you feel more secure and encourage an open dialogue.
Make a pact
Once you've begun talking more openly with your partner make an agreement that you will talk about everything appropriate to the success of your stepfamily. Discuss all the relevant areas of stepfamily life - talk about everything from money paid through the CSA to any children you might want to have together. Consider any change of circumstances that may occur that will then impact your family e.g. if your partner is paying £1000 per month for the children and you then have a family of your own together what impact will that have on you/the new child?
Until next time.
The Stepfamily Coach
About the Author
For a free report, "7 Secrets For Building a Solid Stepfamily and succeeding as a Stepparent", including tips and ideas that you can use immediately with your stepfamily visit http://www.TheStepfamilyCoach.com and we'll send your copy now!
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| Some other articles by Jo Ball - The Stepfamily Coach|