Do you and your partner often end up in arguments?
Do these arguments affect your mood and well-being, and are they perhaps starting to become a relationship issue in themselves?
And, most importantly, how useful is the outcome of all that fighting?
The solution is not to gloss over the conflicts, it is to learn how to communicate more effectively.
What to expect in Couples Therapy
Couples therapy is all about learning how to communicate effectively.
It is important to say what you think, and it is normal to disagree. Couples therapy can give you the tools to work out your inevitable conflicts without inflicting unnecessary pain and with a positive goal in mind.
Here are just a few tools from the therapist’s toolbox:
Speak for yourself
You may be surprised how many people don’t speak for themselves.
But in order to communicate effectively, speaking for yourself, and for yourself only, is the golden rule.
Instead of saying, “You did something wrong” or, even worse, “You are in the wrong,” speak for yourself and say “I feel upset right now,” or “I disagree.” Then, give your reasons. Psychologists call this ‘owning your emotions.’ It helps to clarify your own position, and it signals openness and fairness to the other person. Particularly unfair, and therefore ineffective, is the accusation that your partner ‘makes’ you feel or do something. If you are an adult in a reasonably equal relationship, nobody can ‘make’ you feel or do anything you don’t want to. (If you are being coerced, or if there is violence, then you need to call the police. They will communicate effectively on your behalf.)
Don’t make assumptions.
It can be very tempting to think that you know your spouse inside out. But nobody can see the inside of another person’s mind. Assuming you already know everything is the end of communication, and it is probably also the end of being interested in each other. No wonder you’re constantly annoyed!
Try to ask questions instead.
Real questions, questions that you don’t know the answer to.
Allow yourself time to formulate those questions when you are by yourself – what do you really want to know?
Your spouse’s answers may surprise you.
Address your own fear
Fear is the worst enemy of openness.
Many couples can’t communicate effectively because they are too busy building up their own position and then defending it, as if their relationship was a war-zone and their partner the enemy.
You may be familiar with your anger, but you may not be aware of the underlying fear.
Ask yourself what you are afraid of!
Not being heard, giving up territory, limiting your choices, living a life you don’t want to live?
Then ask your partner the same questions. (Real questions that you don’t know the answer to, see above.)
Keep an open mind. Stay curious.
Even enemy nations can and do negotiate (and they employ highly trained professionals who know how to negotiate effectively).
Do you really want to live out your relationship cowering in the trenches, afraid of the next wave of enemy fire?
Set good boundaries
A couple is a team of two people who are engaged in a long term project together. And although we sometimes long to merge, in reality we always stay inside our own body boundary. We need to create good boundaries between each other in other ways, too. Discussing, setting, and negotiating boundaries, both day-to-day and in the long term, is a very good way to learn and then practice effective communication. When your boundaries are secure, you can feel safe to come out and play together.
Stay in the present
Two words can ruin any effective communication: ‘Always’ and ‘never.’
When you have a conflict, try to stay with the current incident. Tell your partner what happened right now for you and how you feel about it. Ask questions. Try to hear the answers.
Of course, there is no such thing as an isolated event, and many problems do have their roots in the past. But if you say ‘always’ or ‘never,’ your partner will hear it as an overwhelming accusation, going back all the way to the dawn of time.
Remember why you are here
You chose your partner. And there is a good reason why you are both here, today, together.
Effective communication starts and ends with you.
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