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Relationship Counseling – How To Fix Communication in a Relationship
In relationship counseling, I am often asked, ‘How do I fix my communication problems in my marriage?” The answers seem easy, but can be difficult to apply. Let’s talk about a few principles I share with couples in relationship counseling that will help you communicate in marriage.
How You Communicate Vs. What You Communicate
First, understand that what you are talking about is often lost in translation because of how you are saying it. If you use a harsh start up, for example, you will send the message to your partner that you are ready for a fight. Even if you are saying words that indicate otherwise. Your tone, body language all convey a sense of safety or danger. Our hearts and minds are designed to pick up on danger and to act accordingly.
For example, if you approach your husband and say with a sarcastic tone, hands on your hips, “Yeah, we need to sit down and talk about your hunting trip coming up” you might be met with defensiveness. Your spouse see’s how you are standing and the tone in your voice and doesn’t think that you are ready to talk about the situation safely. He sees danger. You could say instead with a soft tone, “I know you have told me when you are going on your hunting trip already and I would just like to talk about it with you again.”
Sarcasm in the first example sends the message that you don’t really want to talk, but rather are trying to make a point. It tells him that you are ready to fight, even. He might respond to the second example with defensiveness, but you did your part. You can’t control how he responds to you. All you can control is how you approach him. Do it in a healthy manner and your chances of talking about this issue productively go up.
Who Is The Boss?
Second, understand that you are not the boss of your partner. When you start to feel uncomfortable in your relationship, one of the first things you might be tempted to do is tell your spouse what to do differently. This is your attempt to stop feeling uncomfortable. Isn’t this setting appropriate boundaries? It seems like it is, since you are telling him what you will and will not put up with and what he subsequently needs to change. However, it isn’t setting an appropriate boundary.
The simple reason it isn’t is because you aren’t the boss of your partner. You can share with him the raw data of the situation and your emotional experience with it. But you can’t then conclude what they need to do differently. Certainly, you can Invite them to change by sharing raw data and your emotional experience with it. Then, they get to decide what to do. And when they decide what to do and do it, it means more and has the chance of lasting longer.
Trying to be someone’s boss almost always ends up in a fight. For example, you might say, “I don’t like that you just sprung this hunting trip on me last minute. I want you to tell your friends that we already had plans.” By telling him to cancel, you are trying to be his boss. He will likely respond with defensiveness or anger. If you say to him, “We had plans to go a show and then out to eat this Saturday. With your hunting trip now planned we won’t be able to do that. I feel sad and unimportant.”
The later example gives your spouse a chance to feel your emotions and then to make a decision himself about how to act. It appeals to his humanness. Because he does care for you, he can decide how to respond.
How Assumptions Can Help
Third, assume the best when it comes to your spouse. When you assume the worst you then act in ways that don’t promote a healthy relationship. For example, when your spouse plans a last minute hunting trip, you might assume that he forgot about your plans to go out together and that he still likes being with you. This is better than assuming that he just doesn’t care about you. If you assume that he forgot, there is still room for you to believe that he cares about you, and that he simply made a mistake that hurt you. On the other hand, if you assume that he planned this trip because he doesn’t care about you, you’re stuck defending yourself, withdrawing or fighting.
Working with couples in relationship counseling, I have often witnessed how some succeed applying these principles, while others fail. One of the places to check for problems is with your heart. Your heart can either be a heart at peace or a heart at war. When your heart is at peace, you are more likely to set you and your spouse up for success. A heart at war stops your opportunities to come together right away. You might say the right words, but they don’t communicate safety.
Our counseling centers offer’s relationship counseling by specialized marriage and family therapists.