Communication is a Two-Way Street
Healthy productive communication abilities are not inherent. They are learned and developed. Our life experiences frame the foundation for how we perceive each other and form relationships. Healthy relationships depend on good communication, mutual respect and trust. Communication is far more than the words we speak. The way we say the words and how they are received impact the success of the message. When we are able to communicate effectively, we connect, and these connections establish and strengthen our relationships.
MS isn’t easy for people to understand or talk about and can challenge even the closest of relationships. Most MS symptoms aren’t clearly visible, and the unpredictability of the disease makes it harder for people to know what they can count on from each other. Lifestyle changes may require a shifting of roles and responsibilities. MS can strain resources, including finances, time, energy and emotions.
Effective communication is crucial to managing the changes and challenges life presents us. Whether you are just touching base or needing to have a hearty conversation, it is important to set yourself up for success by planning and committing to regular times to talk. It’s important to understand and respect each other’s feelings, needs and communication styles, as well as to identify and agree on comfortable ways to broach even the most sensitive topics.
Create an environment conducive for conversation by selecting an area that is quiet, private and comfortable. Take the time to ensure distractions are limited by turning of the television, silencing cell phones and communicating to other family members how they can support and respect this special talking time.
Make sure you are ready and at your best. Choose a time of day when you are rested, hydrated and nourished. Bring tools such as pictures, notes, a note pad or recording device to help you communicate your thoughts and ideas. Mood changes caused by MS can make conversations difficult, as can problems with attention, memory and information processing. Acknowledging and addressing these problems with your healthcare team and with your partner can have a positive impact on your communication. Be sure to always approach your conversations with a positive, open and mindful attitude.
Talk so your partner will listen. Start from a positive place being honest and open when sharing your thoughts and perspective. Think before you speak, make eye contact, and use “I” statements. Give your partner time to think and respond. Be wary not to over generalize, use sarcasm or words that would discourage a response. Avoid engaging in magical thinking as no one can read your mind.
Listen so your partner will talk. Do not interrupt, jump to conclusions or finish the other person’s sentence. Give your full attention to the conversation by actively listening and confirming what you have heard. Be mindful of your body language. Avoid eye-rolling, smirking, finger-jabbing, or doing something else at the same time.
Establishing meaningful communication is vital for identifying and dealing with the challenges and opportunities of life. Invest in yourself and your relationships by breaking the silence and engaging in healthy hearty conversation.