Couples Communication 101

Most couples come in to therapy interested in improving the way that they communicate with each other.  It may be that they either don’t communicate their needs and avoid conflict OR that they have endless conflict that doesn’t get resolved.  In either case, it can feel like they are not heard, understood and cared for.

Being a good engaged listener is key to improving communication, so let’s start there.

Engaged Listener:

  1. Listen Attentively:  don’t defend/argue but rather spend your time FOCUSED on understanding/caring (empathy) what the other person is saying
  2. Deepen Understanding:  ask questions for clarification with the intent of understanding the other person better & learning about yourself (how your triggered etc.) ~ allow for curiosity
  3. Express Empathy:  imagine what it’s like for the other person from their perspective and communicate this compassionately like, “I hear you felt really hurt by what I said.” ~ make empathic statements & brief contact statements like, “ohh, aha,” communicating that your listening, understand & care (empathy)
  4. Communicate Understanding: tell them what you’ve learned about their point of view with the intent of making sure you understand THEM accurately ~ this is often the point where people try to infuse their own perspective about what happened but this won’t work ~ if you didn’t get it accurately, get clarification and go through process again

Mindful Speaker

  1. Focus:  stay focused on one issue at a time to emphasize what’s most important and not overwhelm the listener
  2. Avoid Attacking:  make sure you’re calm enough to engage in a conversation with vulnerability and without putting the other person down ~ blaming, accusing & name calling is likely to put the other person on the defensive ~ name some positive aspect of the situation
  3. Learn About Yourself:  mindfully and compassionately notice what triggers you from unmet needs in the past or present ~ be open to discovering something new about yourself
  4. Express Yourself:  express yourself without holding the other person solely responsible for your reactions ~ assert your needs with requests, not demands ~ use “I” statements ~ “when you said xyz, I felt xyz” not “I think you’re a jerk”

Take turns & practice

  1. Start with a topic that is a 5 or 6 out of 10 in terms of intensity & importance
  2. When you lead with vulnerability with someone you trust and care for, it’s more likely to resolve in a more satisfying way and more quickly
  3. It’s often not about problem solving but about feeling heard

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