Couples Communication

So often, I hear couples wanting to come in to learn communication skills.  They say they can no longer talk to one another without fighting. In truth, it is the rarest of couples that I actually need to teach how to communicate. In fact, it is because they are communicating so well that they are fighting so much.

Couples have figured out what the other person is thinking and feeling (never mind if it is actually true), that they have given up listening. They just wait and respond with contempt, anger, and resentment. This is nothing new, we have seen the classic couple portrayed as fighting it out for as long as we can remember.

Still, why do these people stay together? Well, overall because they love each other. They haven’t stopped loving one another typically, it is that they are no longer know how to share their bigger dreams and desires. This has been documented time and time again by researchers like Dr. Gottman and Dr. Schnarch (who are both experts in the field).  The bond hasn’t been torn apart but it has been broken down by snide comments, non follow-through, and unrealistic expectations.

You may read this and think “yep, that is my partner” but here is the catch, it is each and every one of us. We are human and we experience the whole realm of emotions and responses. This includes even when you do and say really crappy things to the people around you that you love.

As a therapist, I’m not here to stop anyone from feeling anything. In fact, I encourage every single feeling you have. I don’t think that suppressing feelings helps anyone. I think that being brave enough and honest enough to say that you hate, love, like, dislike, lust, and admire all different aspects of your partner is important. Our society doesn’t allow us to express these emotions, as in a healthy relationship we are “only supposed to do the happy parts” but that isn’t real. At least this approach isn’t real for something long term.

If you want to pretend that you don’t have times where you hate your partner AND pretend that your partner never has similar thoughts, then therapy may not be the best place for you. If instead, you want to be real and direct about the full scope of emotions and learn how to handle those feelings within yourself and with your partner in a healthy way well then, therapy is the place for you.

It isn’t easy being honest. Sure we all say we want it, but in truth we want someone to just love us exactly as is while we work to change them in all the ways we want. This is pretty much how it is for all of us, you are not alone in this desire. It also isn’t typically the best way to keep a relationship healthy. However, denying that these feelings exist doesn’t help situations either.

So one of the first places to start, is to sit down with yourself and have a real heart to heart. You don’t have to share your feelings with anyone else, but admit if you have moments where you just dislike your partner a great deal.  This reality check helps you realize that you are fully capable of being honest. If you struggle with this step, then the rest might be beyond your abilities currently.

Next, consider what kind of context you currently have with your partner. If you have already established a truly open expression of feelings, then you might be able to express fully. However, most couples I know, even the really healthy ones, have trouble saying things when it is about “hard emotions”. No one wants to hurt another person’s feelings, unless of course you are angry. And that is the catch. We want to learn how to express the hard stuff when we are calm and loving rather than in the midst of a fight/flight moment of reaction.

If you don’t have the skills or the kind of relationship where you can share these tough feelings then therapy might be the next step towards becoming closer. Having a third party there to meditate through the emotions, help keep everyone on task, and someone from the outside to listen to everyone can change the dynamics.

Consider if you can be your authentic self with your partner. And if the answer is no, then look into ways that you can be more fully visible within your relationship. If the answer is yes, then smile and know that you are on the right track to a fulfilling life.

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