Couples who have the compassion for each other’s pain, and the ability to really hear and validate their partner’s feelings without becoming defensive, are able to communicate their differences in ways that actually strengthen and improve the intimacy in their relationship.
Couples fight when they dismiss and ignore their partner’s experience. Marriage counseling aims to break through clients’ defense structures and protections, which keep them from hearing their partners’ complaints.
Once we break through these obstacles, we can foster the couples’ own inherent strength and resiliency to make the changes they desire.
If you are like most of us, you probably learned how to communicate and resolve conflicts from your friends and family. Some of us were fortunate enough to have families with expert communicators, but of course that is the exception as opposed to the rule.
Since we don’t learn much about communication in school or from family or peers exactly how we supposed to find out how to resolve conflict? The way I learned is from studying communication theory in college and testing those theories with couples in marriage counseling.
Express It With Compassion
The following are some general guidelines for expressing feelings that couples sometimes forget:
- Try to be specific rather than general about how you feel. Consistently using only one or two words to say how you are feeling, such as bad or upset, is too vague and general. What kind of bad or upset? (irritated, mad, anxious, afraid, sad, hurt, lonely, etc.).
- Specify the degree of the feelings, and you will reduce the chances of being misunderstood. For example, some people may think when you say, “I am angry” means you are extremely angry when you actually mean a “little irritated”.
- When expressing anger or irritation, first describe the specific behavior you don’t like, then your feelings. This helps to prevent the other person from becoming immediately defensive or intimidated when they first hear “I am angry with you”, and they could miss the message.
- If you have mixed feelings, say so, and express each feeling and explain what each feeling is about. For example: “I have mixed feelings about what you just did. I am glad and thankful that you helped me, but I didn’t like the comment about being stupid. It was disrespectful and unnecessary and I found it irritating.”
When you try to find the best in your partner’s point of views you show that you value their opinion. If you take the time to really listen, rather than think about what’s wrong with their argument, you may find that you gain more respect.
Developing Communication Skills
When a couple can only make minimal improvement on their own, couples counseling can help improve communication by doing the following:
- Express feelings productively.
- Respectfully confront someone when you are bothered by his or her behavior.
- Express difficult feelings without attacking the self-esteem of the person.
- Clarify for you and the other person precisely what you feel.
- Prevent feelings from building up and festering into a bigger problem.
- Communicate difficult feelings in a manner that minimizes the other person’s need to become defensive, and increases the likelihood that the person will listen.
Communicating With Kindness
Effective communication and kindness have a great deal in common. They both require each person to pay attention and hone their listening skills.
Successful and satisfying communications starts with an openness to your partner’s ideas and the way they are thinking.
If you are trying to create a positive shift in your communication start by building on what your partner says as opposed to tearing it down. Take the lead in instituting this rule. Of course it’s okay for couples to disagree with each another but make it a priority to find something useful in what your partner says.
Healthy communication is a key ingredient of a successful relationship, and successful couples know how to communicate in a way that can actually improve their relationship.
Through marriage counseling I will help you to understand the way in which you presently communicate, and then teach you new skills and solutions to improve ways to talk to each other.
I was fortunate to have published research on communication in relationships so I know the tools that can help you to get your communication back on track. It’s amazing how much better a relationship can be when communication is improved.