Couples Communication

Communicating is one of the most complex things we do. Place that challenging undertaking into the context of an emotionally interwoven relationship and there are exponential increases in the difficulty.

Saying that you talk is not the same as communicating well. Research has shown that, for instance, men and women who talk rarely understand the full meaning of the other and often not even the basic message. Our language is nuanced enough that each partner is unduly pressed to make assumptions about what the other person means.

To that puzzle add needing to understand the emotional shading, which changes the meanings of words and phrases (e.g., “No” as in “No thank you.” and “No” as in “Are you out of your mind?”). Then imagine the person trying to listen being deafened by their own emotional static and pile on unconscious influences springing from the emotional baggage of both communicators and it becomes a wonder that we understand even the simple announcement from our partner that dinner is ready.

It is said that couples conversations just go in circles, never learning, never changing. While this would be completely understandable, the truth is much more encouraging than that. And the good news is that the path through all of the complexity is actually very straightforward.

Here are six behaviors can turn tangled messes, which threaten emotional war (hot or cold), into possibilities for increased closeness:

  • Slow everything down so that you can think carefully about what you say and do
  • Don’t start a war (hot or cold) by being “truthful”
  • Try to never give voice to your blame of the other, especially if their wrong
  • Check out all your assumptions, but assume the best about your partner’s motives
  • Take full, personal responsibility for getting what you want
  • Be clear and transparent about what’s happening for you

Once you’ve laid the foundation by defusing things, there will be lots of room to seek more respect, reject blame, request “do overs”, walk through the puzzle of how it all happened. You can implement strategies to “train” your partner, you can agree on ways to grow together and you can be sure each of you feels heard and understood.

My experience is that it takes a very active, experienced coach to establish the routines for this process, but that once established, it becomes self-correcting. Now there’s a balm for the heart and soul of any relationship – self-correcting instead of endless repeating negative spirals.