02 Jun All couples communicate… but not always well
Sometimes, when I work with couples, I hear: “BUT WE ALREADY COMMUNICATE!”…
And it’s true.
Everyone communicates with each other all the time: what we say (and don’t say), what we do (and don’t do), how we look, how we sound, how we touch (or don’t touch).
However, if my couples clients tell me that they are already good at communicating, I’d bet my bottom dollar that the way they are communicating can always be improved. Especially if they are dealing with some sort of relationship distress.
One partner might believe that he or she communicates really well, but the other might reveal that this sounds like endless talking-that-goes-nowhere, and soon becomes “white noise”. They tune out. We might even discover that it’s the partner who does less of the talking that has the most to say; they just haven’t known how to say it in a constructive way.
Great communication is about quality not quantity.
Other couples find that they are talking about important relationship challenges at the wrong times and in the wrong places. If you’ve ever discussed an issue with your partner while simultaneously sending a text message, rushing to get showered or dressed or to cook a meal, or checking emails, will know that this feels crazy. And is. No wonder some relationship problems never get solved.
It’s a real skill to know how to communicate really well, especially with emotions involved.
And by “well”, I mean in a way that allows partners (and the same applies to parents with their kids) to grow closer together as they deal with problems, not to clash heads or to grow more and more apart.
Great communication starts with knowing what NOT to do.
Want to know the most destructive behaviours that ruin relationships?
Gottman’s marriage research tells us: it’s criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (which is shutting our partner out). How do partners fall into these habits? And more importantly, how can they work together to safeguard their relationship against communicating in ways that research tells us is statistically harmful?
Great communication takes a whole lot of listening.
When partners feel heard, they say and do less destructive things.
There’s a difference between normal everyday listening, and active or empathic listening.
Remove distractions. Listen. Paraphrase. Ask for clarification when you’re confused. Prompt for more information. Suspend your own thoughts and responses for a while. Imagine what it’s like to be him or her. Allow you partner to really finish speaking. Then, have your turn, and expect your partner to listen as well as you’ve done. Special things happen when people feel really heard.
Great communication takes self awareness and expression.
A successful relationship is one where everyone is heard. But before we can ever expect to be really heard, it’s essential that we know ourselves. It takes skill to gather the data that makes us “us”: to really know what we are thinking, feeling, wanting and needing. It also takes skill to know how to put that together in a way that is authentic whilst also being collaborative. When we get this right, problems stop becoming toxic and start becoming the very things that bring us closer together.
Basic recipe for communication that brings couples closer?
1. Stop doing what’s harmful.
2. Become an expert listener.
3. Know yourself, and how to share who you really are.
Already doing all three? Perfect. Sounds like a safe home for love that lasts!