The most frequent couple complaint I hear is, “We don't communicate!" Sometimes, I can't resist telling them, “You communicate quite well. . . You just don't like what you're hearing!"
We are always communicating. Whether it is a sullen slump, a gleeful shout, or an angry retort, we're always communicating the state of our being and our response to the other. We just don't always like what is being communicated.
So, let's be clear. We want the communication messages to change from what we're getting. We want appreciation, not condemnation. We want acceptance and understanding, not rejection and rigid opinions.
How do we make this change?
1. It starts with our personal choice to not be reactive. We choose to hold our tongue long enough to consider what we're going to say before we say it. (Yeah, this is a really tough one for many of us. )
2. Now that we are containing that automatic reaction, we choose to transform any kind of criticism and anger from our partner into an understanding of the underlying hurt and the lack of ability to transcend it. (Wow. This is a really tough one, too!)
3. We empathize and listen. “If you're looking at it like that, you must feel really hurt and frustrated. That wasn't my intention. Can you tell me some more about how you're looking at it?"
4. We're reaching a critical point. If the above step is successful then some understanding and softening is starting to occur. Now we can actually suggest that we feel hurt and upset, as well, and we'd like to be able to express it.
However, if our partner just cranks up the feelings in response to our empathy there may still be no opening to be heard. If this is the case it is time to take a time out and try again later. Why keep trying to make a partner listen when it isn't going to happen?
5. When there is some mutual empathy and listening occurring we still need to be careful. Those old reactions are lurking just beneath the surface, and the right trigger will once again unleash them, either in us, or in our partner. So, beware!
It takes a lot of this good empathic, listening behavior to create a new relational habit. And even then, the right trigger can send us backward. So, it is always a work in progress.
This week determine to contain your reactions. Shut your mouth and breath! Then, if you can, suggest to yourself that the issue is not about fairness, but about you and your partner both feeling hurt and reactive. Your job is to start the process of empathizing with that hurt and listening as best you can.
There's no guarantee that it will help, but at least it's better than what you've been trying!
Steve Roberts, “The Couples Guy, " is an experienced Marriage and Family Therapist who shares tips and real life relationship secrets from over 20 years of practice. Get Insight and Wisdom at: http://www.whatworksforcouples.com/