Difficulty with communication is, without question, the most common issues that couples complain of when they come into my office. You may have heard the age old saying “communication is key” when it comes to relationships, and there is a reason that saying has stood the test of time! Communication between a couple is extremely powerful. It can bring two people closer together or push them to the brink of divorce. Some examples of poor communication can look like nitpicking, nagging, blowups, and the dreaded silent treatment. Since therapy is not always accessible, the following steps can act as a guide to help you and your partner communicate in a healthier, more effective way.
1. Use “I” statements
Although I am sure many of you have heard this method of communication before, it’s importance cannot be understated. Often in relationships we get into patterns that are so ingrained and frustrating, we feel the only way to protect ourselves is through placing the hurt and blame onto our partner. While it takes a lot less vulnerability to place blame on another person rather than communicate how their actions make you feel, using “You” statements makes it a lot more difficult for your partner to be willing to hear what you have to say. It’s the difference between “You never make time for me anymore” and “I feel hurt that we haven’t spent as much time together lately”.
2. Use primary emotion language rather than secondary emotions
Often times the reason we have strong emotional reactions to our partners is because they touched on a primal emotion that is rooted so deep within us, we may not even be aware that we are feeling that emotion. The eight primary emotions include: anger, sadness, fear, joy, interest, surprise, shame, and disgust. Over time, individuals learn to react to the primary emotions via our families, society, and life experiences. These are called secondary emotional responses and can look like getting angry at your partner for not texting you back when really you are fearful that they may not come home or are being unfaithful. In order to communicate effectively, we want to get in touch with our primary emotions and identify when those are triggered to our partners. *Warning* This may take some internal reflection!
3. Reach for each other
Sometimes when I hear couples argue it feels like watching a tennis match with each player keeping a scorecard, rather than a dialogue between two people in a relationship. This is the issue that arises when couples argue to win rather than seeking to understand. Ideally a partner should be your secure base who you can turn to in times of distress, however, this becomes increasingly difficult when your partner is the source of your distress. If you and your partner can practice step one and two then the ability to communicate your emotions in an earnest non-blaming fashion will allow you both have empathy for one another’s perspectives and it will no longer matter who won the tennis match.
For more information about how to heal from negative communication patterns please feel free to email Emmy at [email protected] or give her a call at 720-515-3556.