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New Year, Better Relationships


Austin Woman


Relationship expert Michelle Skeen shares six essential communication skills for healthy relationships from her book, Love Me, Don’t Leave Me: Overcoming Fear of Abandonment and Building Lasting, Loving Relationships.


Self-disclosure. “It’s difficult for us to feel vulnerable. We feel like we won’t get hurt if we don’t let someone know who we really are. Sometimes, though, we expose too much too soon. There are certain people who are not going to be appropriate to share our innermost thoughts with. Go at a good pace. Ultimately, the goal is to make connections by showing parts of yourself that aren’t perfect but make you an imperfectly perfect person, like we all are.”


Listening. “When we feel vulnerable or fearful, often our past experiences come to the surface. We get so overtaken by memories that we’re not listening to what the other person is saying; we’re busy predicting what they’re saying. If you’re overwhelmed emotionally, say, ‘Can we have this conversation another time when I’m not so upset?’ Another strategy is to repeat what you think someone is saying back to them so they have the opportunity to say, ‘Actually, that’s not what I was trying to say.’ We all communicate differently, so clarification is really important.”


Need expression. “The key to need expression is identifying whether a need is a present need or a need from your past that didn’t get met. It can be damaging to put all of your past needs on your current relationships, so it’s important to identify what your present needs are and communicate them clearly. You also can’t have the expectation that one person is going to meet every need. Not that your partner can’t be your best friend, but you have to be careful about how much pressure you put on one person.”


Validation. “Validation helps create a healthy cycle of communication. Whether you agree with someone or not, you can say, ‘Yes, I hear what you’re saying, and I understand why you would be upset about this.’ If the other person feels like you’re hearing them and that you appreciate what they’re sharing with you, they’ll share more, and start to give you the same validation.”


Empathy. “When you’re feeling difficulty making that empathic connection, imagining that other person as a child makes it easier to find an emotional connection that will allow you to at least understand their perspective, even if you don’t agree with it. It’s also a tool I use for people to create self-compassion. We’re our own worst critics; the things we say to ourselves can be so harsh.”


The apology. “To many people, apologizing means that you’re weak. It’s easy to go to a place of judgment because we are certain we wouldn’t have gotten our feelings hurt, but people get hurt by different things. Even if you don’t think that you did anything wrong, you know from what someone is telling you that they’re hurt by something you did. An apology needs to be sincere, and the wording is important. You can’t say, ‘I’m sorry that you think what I did hurt your feelings.’ That’s distancing yourself from the experience. Instead, say, ‘I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. Now that I have this information, I’ll try not to do it again.’ ”


Michelle Skeen’s advice on how to have a better relationship with…


Your spouse/ significant other: “Make a habit of acknowledging every time they do something you like (even if it’s something they do all the time) rather than pointing out the things you don’t like.”


Your children: “Listen and respond without judgment. We want to be there for them, and sometimes we’ll be ready with a solution or impose our views on them rather than listening and understanding.”


Your parents: “Have empathy for your parents. Whatever they did (unless in the case of abuse), have the underlying belief that they did the best they could do with their limited experiences and resources at the time.”


Your boss: “Everyone gets nervous when they have a meeting with their boss. Your mind can race and it’s easy to get defensive. Be relaxed and listen really well to their feedback.”


Your co-workers: “Maintain boundaries. So often, we become friends with the people we work with, but make sure that you don’t mix business talk with pleasure, or mix pleasure talk with business.”


Yourself: “Practice self-compassion. Until we can truly develop compassion for ourselves, our compassion for other people is not as sincere.”


This article appeared on Austin Woman (

Michelle Skeen