Do you or your partner . . . Not talk for days on end? Only seem to communicate by arguing? Argue over the same thing repeatedly without resolution? Feel you have nothing to say to each other anymore? Get more cranky with the kids when you are angry at each other? Refuse sex or withhold affection? Continually bring up issues from the past?
Is your partner a sulker or a screamer? Often couples come in with two extremes of communication difficulties: silent stalemates or screaming arguments that never get resolved. Other times it's that one person wants to talk (sometimes all night!) and the other just wants more 'alone time'. Lack of effective communication leads to one or both partners feeling angry, rejected, or just plain distant.
Would you like to learn . . . How to talk about sensitive topics without getting into an argument? How to argue without it going on for days? How to talk to each other and actually hear what each other is saying? How to avoid pushing each other's buttons? How to reconnect with each other on a deeper level? How to see a brighter future together?
Good communication doesn't happen naturally for everyone. Resentment and feelings of injustice can really play into poor communication. Often our communication issues go way back. What we learnt in our past relationships and the patterns established in our current ones can all interfere with effective communication.
Power plays flare up as each partner tries to 'have the last word' by either withdrawing (not talking, cold shouldering, withholding sex and/or affection) or acting out (sarcastic remarks, slamming doors, spending too much, going out and getting wasted). Either way everyone suffers, especially the kids if they get in the line of fire.
Some tips on good communication: Look at your partner. Who wants to listen to someone who isn't talking 'to' them? Maintain a normal conversational distance. (If you want to have a real argument, yell at them from the other side of the room--everybody loves that, right?) Don't ham up what you are going to say: just say it. Amping up to a touchy topic is just going to raise the other's hackles sooner. Use the softened start-up then say it straight but nice. Grownups are direct and authentic; they don't play games with words or avoid the real issue. However, using the Gottmans' softened start-up as way in to bringing up tricky conversations is also worth looking at. When it's said and done, drop it. If you have said your bit and you know the other has heard it and there is nothing more to say, then its done. Nothing good comes from going over and over the same problems. Be aware that all couples will have 'perpetual problems', issues with no known solution. Use 'I' statements. Starting with "You never ..." or "You always ...." is going to put the other on the defensive, whereas "I feel x, y, z when you..." is taking some ownership of the issue.
Don't use the bed for arguing; it's for sex and sleeping.
There is a lot more to what you are communicating than you will ever be aware of. It's not just what you say but the way you say it, what you do with your face and your body, and how all of this impacts your partner. Things can happen and words can be spoken that go straight to the part of our brains that registers attack. This is how arguments can flare up in seconds. Woosh . . . it's all on, and afterwards you don't really know what happened. If you and your partner are forever lighting fires you can't put out, then couples therapy can help.
Communication is the number one presenting problem in couples counseling. Effective communication means you need to pay attention to:
Managing unruly emotions, such as anger that is too intense How you are communicating – whining, blaming, being vague, etc. What you want from your partner during the discussion What the problem symbolizes to you The outcome you want from the discussion Your partner’s major concerns How you can help your partner become more responsive to you The beliefs and attitudes you have about the problem. No wonder good communication is so hard.
Clarissa can identify unhelpful communication patterns and help you see what you are doing to upset each other that you may not even be aware of. Once you have a greater understanding of why you do and say the things you do, you'll have greater choice over whether you continue doing and saying those things. From there you can learn new ways of communicating that will reduce stress and conflict in the relationship. These are take-home skills that you can use to create a better relationship now and in the future.
Things can be better, but often you are in too deep to see the way out on your own. A skilled professional can help.