I love working with couples! Mostly, because the healing that happens when your partner can hear you more effectively, is transformative. Regardless of the issue that brings a couple in for counselling and regardless of their level of distress, the very first step in their healing is to learn how to communicate more effectively. Though this sounds very obvious to most people, learning how to communicate more effectively is not so simple. So, let me outline three of the biggest reasons for communication breakdown:
- “I’m right!”- Most arguments that couples have starts with one or both partners having a position that they believe is right. The rest of the argument is spent trying to convince the other partner to agree with your position. However, trying to convince your partner usually results in a breakdown. Either your partner does not agree with your position, which turns the conversation into a ping-pong match. Or, your partner feels attacked by your position and becomes defensive. To reduce the breakdown, start by acknowledging that in most conflicts, both parties are right. And then, listen to your partner to understand how they may be right in the conflict instead of trying to push your position.
- The themes of our lives- Each of us have a theme that predominates our life. Many of these themes have a negative view. For example, people have a theme of never feeling good enough, not being able to trust, or fearing that the other person will leave. These themes will play out in conflict because actions from your partner will be misinterpreted as following that theme. When your partner is upset that you didn’t put the dishes away, you may hear that you are not good enough when your partner’s intention is to ensure a fair balance in the household duties. Check your assumptions by saying to your partner “What I am hearing is..” and then ask if that is what they are intending.
- What you give is what you get- When it comes to confronting an issue, most people do not know how to bring up conflict so the conversation starts off on the wrong foot. There are the individuals who hold onto issues until they explode and explode all over their partners. Because the explosion can feel very overwhelming to the receiver, the partner quickly becomes defensive. Other times, the issue has created a lot of anger or resentment so when approaching the topic, the speaker often conveys the anger in tone of voice or in body language. When delivering a message with anger, the receiver usually returns with anger. So, check in to determine how you want to be received. Most people want their partner to receive their concerns with love so watch the energy behind your message to ensure you are still coming from a place of love. That does not mean letting someone off the hook for something they have done. It is about moving below the anger, which is the easiest emotion to show, to get to the feelings like hurt, fear, or sadness. Because those emotions come from a softer place, they elicit a softer response. Also, bring up issues one at a time so that neither you nor your partner feel flooded because that is a recipe for conflict.
Hopefully the preceding points can give you additional insight into your breakdowns. Though the list is not exhaustive, these are the most common points where communication breaks down. So, take a breath and start listening to your partner. The rewards of healthy communication are endless so it is definitely worth the effort.