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Communication barriers in marriage might sneak up on you and you don’t realize it until your marriage is suffering. Let’s review several barriers to communication that can hurt your relationship. We will also review what to do to fix them. As a marriage and family therapist in Orem and South Jordan for the past 18 years, this is what I have found working with couples.
Communication Barrier #1
The first barrier has to do with confusing your thoughts for emotions. I hear from clients this phrase often, “I feel like______”. You can insert anything in the blank here. Now, is this person talking about their thoughts or emotions? Let’s take a look. If you were to say, “I feel like________”, what usually comes after? It usually sounds something like this, “I feel like you aren’t listening to me”. Right? Is ‘you aren’t listening to me’ an emotion? No, It’s a thought. But because you said, “I feel like…” before it, it seems as if it is an emotion.
This is where people get into trouble when communicating with their spouse. They think they are talking about their emotions, but they are actually just sharing their thoughts. And those thoughts are usually blaming, attacking or at least disconnected-from-their-emotions thoughts. They might even take the role of trying to be their spouses boss or the expert – which is never a good idea.
Solution – Drop the like or the that and add an emotional term such as Sad, Alone, Afraid. For example, you could say, “I feel unheard when you are on your phone as I am trying to talk about this”.
Now, it creates more vulnerability when you do this. It opens you up to the possibility that you could get hurt by your spouse. That is why your heart and head gravitate towards saying, “I feel like_____”, because it distances you from your emotions. Because it distances you, you have a sense of protection. However, this will not help you get closer to your spouse.
If you want to talk about your thoughts, then use these phrases:
It seems like_______.
I think that_________.
Communication Barrier #2
Now let’s talk about primary versus secondary emotions. When trying to recognize, feel and cope with your emotions, there is a potential problem with one of the emotions you might encounter. Enter Anger. Anger shows up as a secondary emotion when you are feeling a primary emotion. It covers it up and acts as a protective agent.
For example, if your spouse is on their phone when you are trying to share your emotions with him there is danger. You see your spouse as someone who is hurting you and making you feel unheard. Because you see them this way, there is a part of you that wants to protect yourself. This part of you realizes that you could get hurt more if you said to your spouse, “I feel hurt and unheard” because they are already hurting you. They could hurt you more!
So, instead, this part opts to protect you by getting you to be angry. This anger covers up your hurt and feeling unheard so your spouse can’t hurt you anymore. You say to your spouse, “What’s your problem? Every time I try to talk with you about something serious, all of the sudden you need to check every score from the weekend on your stupid phone!”.
Solution – Anger covers up the primary emotion and therefore gets in the way of you being vulnerable. I call anger a false emotion. When you feel anger, ask yourself the question, “What am I really feeling?” And dig down to your primary emotion and pick it up instead of anger. No one has ever been angry enough that they feel better afterwards. Anger is insatiable and leaves you wanting to be more angry. So, get past it and embrace the primary emotion it is covering up.
These are some of the more common communication barriers. Not understanding them will put you in a position to use them without knowing it. Most couples that come to marriage therapy use both of these. They lead to significant marriage problems that usually require therapy to fix.
So, try to recognize and fix them now before they get out of hand. If you need help, find a marriage counselor that can help you and your spouse see and overcome these common communication barriers.
We have been doing marriage counseling for years in South Jordan, Orem, Spanish Fork and American Fork.
Schedule a session today. We work with many insurance carriers for therapy as well.