When asked “what is the problem that has brought you to couples therapy”, many clients will say “we need to improve our communication.” When I hear this, I no longer automatically assume I know what they are referring to. “Improving communication” is an umbrella phrase that can mean so many different things to different couples. Here are a few things about which I automatically wonder when I hear a couple say they want to improve communication:
- Do they listen to understand their parter? Are they curious about each others “world”? Or do they listen to react or respond?
- Can each individual contain their own reactivity when they hear their partner say something they do not like or to which they disagree?
- Can they speak their truth in such a way that their partner can hear it, meaning can they speak about their reality in a non-blaming and non-shaming way?
- How well can each partner manage their tone and body language? Do they convey a welcoming and safe environment for each other with their voice tone and body language?
- Can this couple take turns speaking, or do they talk over one another?
- Can the individuals in this couple take a perspective other than their own?
- Are they able to empathize with one another?
Often couples in distress struggle with all of the above, so it is no wonder they are dissatisfied with their communication. Each bullet point is interrelated with the other, and often we must break down and work on each one before we can see them coming together in unison to create effective communication. To me, effective communication is really about staying connected and feeling safe. It is about being REALLY heard and understood, even if our parter disagrees with us or sees things differently. This is a prerequisite before problem solving or negotiating a solution can occur. This series of blog posts will drill down deeper into the complex art of effective communication. I look forward to exploring this with you.