I have been working with couples on communication skills for many years. Helping people talk together more successfully and feel more understood can go a long way in improving relationships. There is one theory that’s been around since the 1950’s that most couples seem to relate to right away. It’s called “Transactional Analysis.” It goes something like this…
Spouse #1 – “You never help me clean up around here! I’m sick of it.!”
Spouse #2 – “I can’t take your nagging at me all the time!”…walks away, slams a door.
What is going on here? Well, according to Transactional Analysis, we all have three places we come from inside of us when talking to someone else. They are the PARENT place, the CHILD place and the ADULT place… and we all go in and out of these mind states all day long.
We are coming from our PARENT place when we hear words coming out of our mouth like “You must…” “You never…” “You always…” “You’re supposed to…” This mind set come from what we heard our parents say to us, laws, societal rules, etc.
When we were little, we reacted to being talked to like this. As adults, when we pout, shout, get rebellious, or shut down we are coming from our CHILD place. Take a moment to think about how you reacted to stress as a child. Notice any similarities to how you react to your spouse as an adult?
You see, a funny thing happens when we are talking to someone else. They also have these three places inside that they are coming from in conversation, and the interaction is fairly predictable. When someone unintentionally goes into their PARENT voice it tends to make the other person unintentionally react from their CHILD place. Look at our example above. Spouse #1 is clearly coming from their PARENT voice. “You never help me clean up around here!” When they do that Spouse #2 reacts from their CHILD place. “I can’t take your nagging at me all the time!”…walks away, slams a door.
What can we do?
Once we are over the age of 18 we are now adults. Thankfully, we also have an ADULT place inside of us. Our ADULT voice is the one we typically use at work or when talking with a professional of some sort. Our ADULT voice is calm, nurturing, supportive and speaks in terms of needs.
Our best bet, when talking with our spouse about something that is bothering us, is to speak ADULT to ADULT. We negotiate from a place of needs and try to find a solution that works for both people. Let’s go back to our example and see one possible way these two can have a conversation about the messy house ADULT to ADULT.
Spouse #1 – “Honey, I feel really overwhelmed when I walk in the house after work and there are toys all over the floor. Also the dishes from the morning aren’t done. It really bothers me! Would you be willing to try to get the kids to pick up their toys and get the dishes done from breakfast before I get home in the evening?”
Spouse #2 – “I’m sorry you feel overwhelmed. Sometimes I get overwhelmed myself with everything going on around here so I understand. I would be willing to try to get the kids to pick up their toys, but it may be a work in progress. Maybe you could help me get the breakfast dishes done, by at least doing your own in the morning and then I will work on the rest once you’re gone?”
Talking to each other like this might be hard in the beginning, but it gets easier with practice and more satisfying results. The important thing to remember is that you want to get the problem solved. Working as a team will always be a healthier way to approach problems than simply reacting with the emotion of the moment. This technique can take some practice. A skilled therapist can help you improve your communication skills so you can get back to the best part of your relationship – loving each other!