Sonya Thomas lcsw

Communication Continuums; Wrapping it up – Part 5 of 5

We have looked at three different continuums of communication and engagement, conceptualized by the wife and husband therapist team, Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson.  Let’s delve a little deeper into the communication continuum, and in particular, the process that Bader refers to as “Initiator-Inquirer”.  Partners assume the role of either initiator (the person asking for a conversation to explore a complaint, frustration or ideally, to learn something about themselves) or inquirer (the person who is curious and wants to understand their partners’ world).  These roles provide clear delineation of who will be attended to and who will listen.  As couples become more masterful at this approach, they are able to cycle back and forth in a more natural flow between initiating and inquiring.  Before achieving this natural flow, skill deficits must be addressed that lead to role breakdown.

Here are some of the breakdowns that can occur in the initiator role:

  • Blaming the other rather than focusing on self and one’s own internal process.
  • Avoiding or refusing to initiate, choosing instead to be passive-aggressive or reactionary when frustrated or hurt.
  • Demanding a “merged” response, meaning that one’s partner is expected to agree or comply on demand.

Here are some of the breakdowns that can occur in the inquirer role:

  • Starting to problem solve or “fix it” immediately rather than allowing space for the initiator’s own processing.
  • Asking self referential questions that have more to do with the inquirer rather than the initiator, such as “don’t you think I am upset too” or “how do you think I felt when . . . “
  • Making defensive remarks or going into “counterattack” mode, such as ” well, what about when you did . . . “
  • Demonstrating minimal ability to self soothe or contain reactivity when hearing something to which they disagree or dislike.

Here are some of the capacities that are developed by practicing this process:

  • Increased anxiety tolerance.
  • Increased ability to delay gratification.
  • Increased ability to self-reflect and self-define.
  • Increased ability to self-soothe.
  • Increased ability to validate self and other.
  • Increased ability to experience empathy.

Now, if you and your partner could expand the above capacities, can you imagine all the ways in which your relationship would improve?  The benefits would be exponential because YOU are growing so much as a person.  Not only would your primary relationship improve, so would others.  What is there to lose, other than counterproductive tactics that harm rather than help you and your relationships?