Why do so many couples have such difficulty communicating with each other?
Many couples come in both believing ‘You and I are one, and I’m the one.’ Yes, they are in a power struggle and they want me to mediate and tell them who is right. They say, we’re here to learn to communicate. Both are reactive to the other and want the other to change. I plant a new idea for them to consider, “We’re not going for agreement. You are each unique and have different perceptions of the same thing.” Yes, your goal is to understand where your partner is coming from without agreeing. How do we accomplish this?
One successful way for couples to communicate is ‘The Couple’s Dialogue,’ developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix found in his book Getting the Love You Want.
This is a new way of relating to each other – slowing down the process, calming our reactive patterns, and focusing on our partners and how they view the same situation. This is a tall order when we live in this fast paced society and want to solve problems quickly.
- First, make an appointment to discuss an issue with your partner when you are both calm.
- At the meeting, you may sit across from each other holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes and taking some deep breaths.
- Decide who will present an issue and who will visit for the meeting. The visitor will listen without judgment trying to understand where their partner is coming from.
- The sender in a low, soft voice will present the issue from their own viewpoint, without blaming their partner or criticizing. For example, the sender may say a complaint: “I get frustrated when you leave the dishes around” (complaint) instead of putting your partner down by saying “You’re a slob,” which is attacking your partner’s character.
- When your partner is finished presenting the complaint, the visitor can summarize what they heard and how it makes sense from their partner’s point of view – not their own.
- Be sure to schedule another meeting, so the visitor can share how they perceive the situation.
This way of communicating will take much practice and I suggest you start with non-volatile topics first, such as, “What I value about you,” “My frustrations at work.”
The beauty of this is when you can do it, your relationship grows and the ‘relationship space’ is full of warm, loving energy. If you get stuck, you can see an Imago Therapist to take you through the process. One in your area can be found on the Imago Relationship Therapy website (or see my link page for other suggestions).
Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.