Jan 18 / Barbara Robles-Ramamurthy

Healthy Communication: A Key Ingredient to Family Mental Health

Navigating complex family relationships is a universal human experience, with communication serving as the essential thread that binds its members together-or splits us apart. The ability to express thoughts, emotions, and needs in a healthy manner is a key ingredient for promoting family mental health–yet most of us do not receive this explicit education at home or school. This blog post delves into why cultivating effective communication skills is crucial, identifies common barriers to healthy communication, and explores practical tools like DEAR MAN from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Observe/Feel/Need/Request from Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

Why are healthy communication skills so important?

Effective communication is the cornerstone of strong, resilient families. It serves as a conduit for understanding, empathy, and connection. Healthy families intentionally create an environment where each member feels heard, valued, and supported. By expressing thoughts and feelings openly and respectfully, individuals can establish trust, strengthen relationships, and navigate challenges together. This is crucial for our mental health because none of us can navigate these struggles alone.

However, several obstacles can impede the path to healthy communication within families. Misunderstandings due to unclear requests, lack of active listening, and verbally unexpressed emotions can create a breeding ground for tension and conflict. Additionally, societal expectations, cultural differences, and individual personality traits may contribute to communication barriers. For example, adults have the verbal and cognitive capacities to express their emotions and needs while children are still gaining these skills. Recognizing and addressing these impediments is crucial to fostering a communicatively healthy family dynamic. Addressing these barriers may mean that those with the capacity to observe, reflect and express their needs must support those who are still learning.

One valuable communication skill derived from Dialectical Behavior Therapy is DEAR MAN, an acronym that outlines a systematic approach to expressing needs assertively. 
D - Describe the situation as clearly, succinctly and objectively as possible
E - Express your feelings using “I feel…” statements 
A - Assert your needs by making a request, saying “no” when you cannot meet someone’s requests
R - Reinforce your request by letting the other person know why addressing this situation is so important to you and your relationship with them

M - Stay Mindful, keeping in mind that meaningful conversations can be most effective when done in quiet, private spaces and remembering to stay on topic, not allowing the other person’s emotions or arguments deviate the conversation
A - Appear confident, remembering that your needs are valid and by making kind, clear requests, you are strengthening your relationships
N - Negotiate. This technique empowers individuals to communicate effectively, balancing assertiveness and empathy to consider the other person’s capacity to fulfill the request

Another easily accessible tool comes from Nonviolent Communication, developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg. The Observe/Feel/Need/Request model is an easy way to remember how to frame difficult conversations in a way that promotes understanding and connection. This framework encourages individuals to observe without judgment, identify and express their feelings, connect those feelings to unmet needs, and make clear requests for fulfilling those needs. By following this model, family members can engage in open and honest conversations, fostering understanding and collaboration.

Both of these skills require lots of practice. You can start employing them by using them with emotionally-neutral, simple requests to someone you know can handle the task–for example, asking your friend to text you ahead of time if they know they will be late to your next meeting. You can then move on to more complex requests that are sure to inspire heavy emotions.  

The importance of healthy communication in promoting family mental health cannot be overstated. Effective communication builds strong bonds, enhances understanding, and creates a supportive environment for growth and resilience. Recognizing and overcoming barriers to healthy communication is a crucial step in fostering harmonious family relationships, remembering that our requests will not always be met by others and taking that into consideration when determining how our needs can be fulfilled.

By practicing simple skills like DEAR MAN or Nonviolent communication, families can navigate challenges, resolve conflicts, and strengthen their connections, contributing to overall mental well-being.

Join our Free Teku Wellness Community to learn more about these skills and practice them with a supportive and empowering community!
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