Communication tools for couples

Are you a good listener? Do you think you communicate effectively? What would your partner say about your communication skills? How about when you are angry, sad, frustrated, or hurt?… Are you able to calm your emotions enough to LISTEN to the actual message and process what you heard or do you get flooded with feelings that make communicating impossible?

In couples counseling a common theme I find is that couples often get so overwhelmed (aka flooded) with emotions that they are unable to hear what their partner is saying.  How many times have you and your partner gotten into an argument about two totally different things? Also, sometimes when people tell us things we don’t want to hear, the message we take in gets filtered. Basically we filter the message into something that may or may not be accurate. Then, we allow our emotions to take control and rather than making sure we are clear on the message, we lash out at our partner with hurtful words or we don’t acknowledge the message that was communicated because we are so caught up defending ourselves. Or maybe when you start expressing your wants, needs, or feelings, it starts with “you…”. That sounds like the message is more about someone else than yourself. Does this sound familiar? If it does, then I highly recommend slowing down the way you communicate with your partner by using these communication tools for couples. If you are at the point where this isn’t helping then couples counseling can get you in the right direction so that you can effectively use tools like this.

I suggest using this BEFORE you get overwhelmed or flooded with emotions. First, try practicing this when communicating about a topic or issue that doesn’t typically get you and your partner flooded with angry or hurt feelings. Practice it when trying to decide about what to eat for dinner, making a purchase, or something that you know isn’t a source of contention between the two of you. It feels odd or robotic at first but with practice it is an amazing tool that has helped many of the couples that have come into my office for counseling.

Goal: Communicate what you are wanting, needing, or feeling. Focus on the SOLUTION you are hoping to reach NOT what is wrong with your partner.

Talker: Try to limit message to 2 sentences. Start with “I” statement.

“I want…” “I need…” “I feel…”

Example: “I want more affection, more hugging and kissing. I want to feel closer to you.”

Instead of: “You never hug or kiss me anymore. You never pay attention to me.”

Listener: Step 1: Paraphrase what was said & check for accuracy

“What I hear you saying is…”

Example: “What I hear you saying is that you want us to be more affectionate, like with more hugging and kissing.” Is that right? Is there more?

Step 2: Empathize

“That must make you feel….”

Example: “That must make you feel disconnected, maybe lonely, and sad that we aren’t as loving as we used to be.”

Step 3: Validate – this doesn’t have to mean you agree.

“If I were you/If that was me/If I were in your shoes/I agree, I feel/would feel …..”

Example: “I can see how you would feel that way since we haven’t had a lot of quality time together. I know this is something that is important to you so I will try to make it more of a priority.”

Then the couple can switch roles so that the listener can take the opportunity to express themselves. Sometimes one round is all that is needed because the talker just wants to be heard and when the listener doesn’t get or feel defensive it’s not about arguing a point, it’s just about getting wants/needs met or feelings heard and we can get that accomplished more easily/quickly using this method of communicating.

Now makeup and go have sex!


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