Wellbeing resource

Improving your relationships through communication

Communication is an important part of any relationship. Here are some communication strategies that can help improve relationships.

This article was written by Everymind as part of the ‘Minds Together’ program: mindstogether.org.au.

Communication is an important part of any relationship. Good communication can reduce frustration and stress in relationships, but poor communication can make things worse. Everymind has shared some communication strategies with us from their work supporting the mental health of paramedics.

Family, friends and colleagues all play an important role in supporting paramedics to cope with their unique and essential role, including their long and shifting work hours, high stress situations and exposure to trauma. Learning about relationships and how to improve them is a key part of supporting the mental health of paramedics. Safe and healthy relationships protect us during times of change and uncertainty, and when we are not feeling at our best. People feel less alone, less anxious and less fearful of life in a supportive environment.

We also know that social connection is valuable for our mental health and wellbeing. Our physical and mental health improves when we are surrounded by people who care about us. In comparison, a lack of social connection is detrimental to our health and wellbeing and contributes to feelings of loneliness.

But relationships don’t have to be perfect. It is normal for every relationship to have ups and downs. The quality of the relationship you have with someone matters more than the number of relationships you have. Most importantly, we want to feel that we can depend on those key people to be there for us when we need them.

To help improve the communication between you and the people you care about, here are some communication skills to keep in mind:

  • Levelling: Effective communication occurs when both parties know all the relevant information (thoughts, feelings and facts). Levelling involves sharing information about your thoughts and feelings, rather than expecting the other person to read your mind.
  • Listening: We are often thinking about what to say next during a conversation. But this means that we’re not actively listening or trying to understand what the other person is saying. Listening carefully keeps both people in the conversation engaged.
  • Validating: You don’t need to agree with someone else’s thoughts or feelings. But it’s important to recognise and accept what they think and feel is understandable and valid. This is called validation and it communicates the relationship is important.
  • Maintaining boundaries: Boundaries are the rules we set for ourselves and in our relationships. Setting and maintaining boundaries lets others know what we find acceptable and unacceptable.

Family and friends have told us that providing support to paramedics can be very rewarding, but from time to time you may experience indirect trauma and distress from talking about their experiences on the job. Emotional exhaustion can decrease your empathy and desire to continue your support role. The balance of mutual support in your relationship could become unbalanced and you may feel the relationship is becoming one-sided.

Try applying these approaches:

  • Practice empathy: Empathy is about more than just acknowledging someone’s feelings. It’s also about trying to understand how those feelings are influencing their actions. Empathy means caring about another’s wellbeing as much as you care about your own, and it can make the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy relationship.
  • Be slow to anger and quick to listen. Be present: During an argument, if we rush to strengthen our defences, we often stop hearing the other person and can become angry. If you are thinking about what you are going to say next, you are often not actively listening and understanding what the other person is saying.
  • Take time out for you: You are important and you matter. Supporting someone experiencing mental health concerns can take a toll on your own mental health and wellbeing. It’s important to remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. To continue providing support, you need to take time to do things that you enjoy and contribute to your own mental health and wellbeing. Taking time out to nurture your own wellbeing will keep your cup filled, and help you continue supporting your paramedic.

Family, friends and colleagues all play an important role in supporting the mental health of paramedics. Minds Together features interactive activities, tips and advice, and real stories like this one from paramedics and the people who support them:

Minds Together was developed by Everymind, a national institute dedicated to the prevention of mental ill-health and suicide. The program is currently in a trial phase and Everymind are inviting participants to help test it. This could be a family member, friend, partner or colleague. It could be you or someone you know.

To learn more and find out how you can help, visit mindstogether.org.au.

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