The number one challenge I hear from couples coming into counseling is their difficulty with communication. Communication is a broad, general term that can encompass many things.
Communication is a need for connection; to be seen and heard. When I reach out to you, my partner, I have a need or longing that I want fulfilled. If, for some reason, my partner is not reaching back to me, or reaching back to me in a way that tells me I’m not being heard, then my need/longing is not being met. Then I feel disconnected, alone, and hurt. It can feel like I don't matter to you. These are what we call “negative cycles” where partners go round and round in loops of talking, arguing, or fighting with emotions escalating and defensiveness getting in the way of listening and responding.
Couples counseling helps partners break out of their negative cycles, and learn healthy communication skills to make relationship repair and resolve conflict. Needs and longings get heard. There is a way to compromise so both parties can agree to a solution. Marriage counseling is non-blaming for this reason. We stop seeing our partner as the “problem” and understand that the negative cycle is the enemy. When we feel connected with each other, we feel relaxed and easy and life is good.
Here are five steps to remember for better communication:
1. Break out of negative cycles. We know we are in a cycle when we are defending, explaining and getting heightened emotionally. Both partners agree to "take a breath" or "take a break." When we breathe, we decrease our nervous system.
2. Make "I" statements. After about thirty minutes, return and sit with each other. Make 3 statements about your point of view: "Here's the situation....", "Here's how I feel...", and "here's what I need...".
3. Actively listen. Repeat back what you heard your partner say first, then respond. Use the statements above again.
4. Tell the truth. No appeasing or agreeing if you do not agree with your partner's point-of-view.
5. Create options. Compromise is coming up with a solution that works for both of you. Even if you have to return to the discussion later, come up with two or three options that might work for the situation.
Remember, when we feel seen and heard, we relax. We grow closer knowing we are there for each other.