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Relationships Under Stress

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 So many things that contribute to high levels of stress in today’s world. Not having a job, home schooling while maintaining a job, unexpected financial concerns, trimming our budgets to bare bones, travel restrictions, and the inability to enjoy social functions, are but a few.

When the cares of the day max our ability to cope, we find that those high levels of stress can make it harder to maintain positive relationships.

A better understanding of how we can respond to things that stress us out is extremely important so we can put positive, preventive measures and coping skills in place (see my book, Make Stress Work for You , and its accompanying Personal Application Workbook).

We know that anxiety levels can dramatically rise as optimism flies out the window and worry about our future takes over. Anger, guilt, and shame are quickly activated. Learning to calm ourselves through slow, even breathing whenever stress levels rise is imperative.

We need interaction with people.

When positive and supportive, those interactions can have a quieting and reassuring effect as we discuss options and encourage one another. But when relationships are strained with conflict and the inability to communicate, it adds another layer to our already overloaded stress levels.

What does communication involve?

We cannot not communicate. It is an ongoing process – a two-way street that involves both speaking and listening.

  • A good communicator uses words that say exactly what they are thinking, wanting, or feeling.
  • A good communicator avoids, if possible, words or phrases that color, cast blame or distort the message.

All communication goes through a filtering system.

The speaker’s message goes through his filters and the listener hears the message through their own filters.

Filters are anything that alters or distorts the message being sent or heard.

Our messages are influenced by how we feel physically and psychologically in the moment, both as a speaker and a listener. Our perceptions of the world, experiences, beliefs, expectations, and assumptions all color our communication.

Typical communication filters that may distort our speaking and listening ability:

  • Perceptual factors – how you make sense of the world
  • Attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts
  • Your past experiences
  • Your needs and wants
  • Cultural and ethnic differences
  • Gender issues
  • Temporal and environmental factors

Different cultures will use similar words that have a different meaning. For example, we call the trunk of a car a “trunk.” In England, they call it a “boot.”

These things can distort the message so what was intended may not be what is said or heard.

Communication breakdowns

Communication is sending and receiving messages we hope are understood. It involves both verbal and nonverbal language. It involves our body stance and facial expressions.

Communication becomes a problem when people don’t say what they mean, or aren’t really listening to what is being said or aren’t checking to see if what they heard was correct.

As speakers, we assume the other person understands exactly what we are trying to say. A listener receiving your words needs to be sure they understand the intent of the speaker and don’t fill in the gaps with assumptions or guesses.

They ask for clarification by paraphrasing or doing a perception check:

“To be sure I understand you correctly, this is what I understand you are saying to me.”

You repeat back what you heard and what you believe the intent to be.

Communication breaks down because:

  • We don’t know how to articulate and use the words that adequately define what we want to say
  • We attack/defend/blame or use heavily laced emotional words
  • We assume a listener will understand what we are trying to say
  • We are unaware of things that interfere with our communication: our biases, how we are feeling at that moment, our overall emotional well-being, our beliefs and attitudes, feelings we may have about the listener, etc.
  • We are unaware of our listener’s state of being

Communication is circular and involves thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and ideas, as well as facts conveyed between individuals.

We are affected by the message we hear, and the other is affected by our responses. As conversation goes back and forth, we make connections, both in our thinking, modeled behavior, and our verbal and nonverbal exchange.

Words alone don’t give us adequate information.

Non-verbally, we communicate with our body posture and stance, facial expressions, tone and hand gestures, etc. While words can be manipulated, most of our non-verbal communication is automatic.

We can use words to conceal, distort, confuse, and deceive, but it is much more difficult to deceive through body language.

And even if we rehearse our body language, it is difficult to maintain that polished version for any length of time.

Whenever there’s a conflict between verbal and non-verbal, we will attend to the non-verbal first. Nonverbal cues are closely tied to our emotions. Studies show that only 7% of emotional meaning comes from the words themselves.

Non-verbal communication isn’t always accurate, either.

Relationships Under Stress | focuswithmarlene.com

People who fold their arms may be interpreted as shutting you out or putting up barriers. There are other reasons why people may fold their arms that have nothing to do with what is being spoken. We get into trouble with both verbal and non-verbal communication when the cues that are triggered are inaccurate or we guess or make assumptions.

Breakdown in communication usually occurs when:

  • We believe we already know how to communicate
  • We are too busy to take time to listen
  • We avoid what is difficult – we get bored and lazy
  • We don’t know what it is we really want and/or don’t know how to ask for it
  • We don’t know how to organize and plan our conversations
  • We don’t feel confident with our communication skills and fear reprisals
  • We are afraid we might be misunderstood
  • We rely on assumptions and expectations
  • We don’t want to be responsible
  • We want to avoid conflict
  • We form opinions and resist change

During the upcoming week, take time and mentally observe your speaking style.

  • Are you someone who uses a lot of facial expressions?
  • Do you speak with animated gestures of your hands?
  • Are you aware of your stance – how you sit or stand?
  • As a listener, do you stop what you are doing and look at the other person?
  • Do you verify your understanding of the intent?
  • How do you check to be sure what you heard was the actual intent?

We aren’t used to thinking about these things when we talk to one another. Becoming aware can reduce a lot of misunderstanding and conflict.

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

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