HAS THIS EVER HAPPENED TO YOU? It’s Saturday morning. You and your partner have plans! You’ve decided to spend the day running some fun errands and catching up together. You’ve discussed getting breakfast then stopping at the car dealership to see that SUV you were considering, then lunch in your favorite bistro, perhaps a walk along the river. You were looking forward to connecting after a long, busy week. But, instead of starting the day together, he turns and says “Sweetheart, I’m feeling completely burned out and don’t feel up to a day together. I’m desperate for some alone time. I think I need to cancel our plans.”
WHAT DO YOU DO? Do you react with anger? Disappointment? Are you off to sulk? Do you understand your partner’s needs and suggest you meet up for dinner? The point here is that—whatever they are—you have feelings about the sudden about-face. And, you’re entitled to those feelings. But if you’re struggling with couples communication, you and your partner may not understand how to prevent this disappointment from turning into a fight and ruining your entire day and eventually, the relationship altogether! How do we improve couples communication?
THE KEY IS UNDERSTANDING: The most important thing one partner can do for the other and for the health of the relationship is to understand. Compassionate understanding can melt resentment and anger, can create emotional generosity, and can bring people back together in intimacy and love. Understanding is the key to couples communication.
HOW DOES UNDERSTANDING WORK? Let’s go back to our example above. You’re upset. You’re disappointed. You’re feeling rejected. Unloved. Unimportant. Things are starting to spiral out of control. Your go-to reaction style is kicking in. Perhaps you’re about to turn away without a response, or perhaps you’re preparing to let loose a string of abusive accusations. Or perhaps you’re tearing up.
SOMETHING DIFFERENT! Now, let’s say something different happens. Let’s say your partner turns to you and says softly “I can see how upset you are by my comments. I know how much you were looking forward to connecting. I was too.”
BEING UNDERSTOOD: This is a small example of what is meant by “understanding.” Notice that no one is changing his or her positions. Notice that no one is accusing the other of anything. One partner simply observes the distress of the other, and understands something about it. When you and your partner introduce a new experience into the mix—the experience of being understood—you’re removing some of the negativity and hostility, and opening up the chance to share your feelings. You’re making it possible for understanding to take place.
HEALTHY COUPLES COMMUNICATION: As a result of feeling understood, you may, in turn, feel more generous about your partner’s needs. Instead of rushing to your go-to reaction-style, you might do something different. You might find it easier to say, “Yes, I am disappointed, but I understand your need for alone time. Shall we just meet up for dinner tonight”? Healthy couples communication is difficult when you’re first learning because you’re working to over-ride old habits. But the hard work pays off with long-lasting improvements to your relationship.
HOW COUNSELING FOR COUPLES CAN HELP: If you think you and your partner could benefit from improving your communication styles, professional therapy can help. A well-trained couples therapist or marriage counselor can teach you and your partner how to improve your listening and communication skills. When you and your partner can engage in healthy communication, the relationship is strengthened, making it the loving and satisfying relationship you hoped for.