One of the most common complaints expressed by couples is that they do not communicate. But truth be told, it’s not that they are not communicating, they are just doing it in ineffective and unhealthy ways.
They stonewall, point their finger and are critical towards their partner or spouse. They don’t listen. They hear to respond in their defense. They become stuck in circular conversations that go nowhere leaving each person frustrated, exhausted, and disrespectful, feeling even further from their partner or spouse.
Sounds all too familiar, right?
The content of a couple’s fight is less important than the process
People believe it’s the content (money, sex, housework) when it’s actually the patterns that continue to repeat themselves over and over again, coupled with a lack of affection and respect they each feel.
To unravel couples of well-ingrained patterns of communication, their style of communication is addressed first.
We examine how their style was formed and reinforced. Thus, initial changes come from first understanding each person’s communication style and helping them to recognize their style. Then, they can start to incorporate healthier skills and strategies to create different conversations that will ultimately resolve their issues and get them ‘unstuck.’
What is your communication style?
This communication style is based on having healthy and high self-esteem.
It is the most effective form of communication. It is the style that people would like to have, though it’s the most uncommon. The person is able to use their voice in effective ways, manage their feelings, tone, and inflection.
They have the confidence to communicate in ways that will get their message across without resorting to mind games or manipulation. They are able to set healthy and appropriate boundaries and don’t allow to be pushed beyond their limits just because someone wants something from them.
A few key behaviors:
- Achieve goals without hurting others
- Are socially and emotionally expressive
- Make their own choices and take responsibility for them, good or bad
- Are direct in communication
This communication style is all about winning, often at someone else’s expense.
They act as if their needs are more important and they let the other person know. They feel they have more rights and contribute more to the relationship. The disadvantage of this style is that it’s not only ineffective, but because there are many overt overtones, the person on the receiving end is too busy reacting to how the message is being delivered.
A few key behaviors:
- Want to win at any cost or at another’s expense
- Overreact, are threatening, loud and hostile towards others
- Demanding, abrasive, and bullying
- Uncooperative, Resentful and vengeful
This is a communication style in which people are ‘passively aggressive.’ They don’t share how they really feel. They appear overly passive, but are actually acting out their anger in indirect ways, working behind the scenes.
They feel resentful and powerless and express these feelings in ways that are subtle and undermine the object of their resentment. This often results in sabotaging themselves. A few key behaviors:
- Indirectly aggressive
- Sarcastic, devious and patronizing
- Unreliable, devious and two-faced
This communication style is focused on pleasing others to the neglect of self.
They avoid conflict and put the needs of others in front of theirs as if the other person’s needs are more important. They believe what they have to offer pales in comparison to what they can offer and contribute to the relationship. A few key behaviors:
- Find difficulty in taking responsibility for decisions
- Feel like a victim, blame others
- Inexpressive, refuse compliments
- Avoid confrontation and overly and inappropriately apologetic
This communication style is calculated, scheming, and at times shrewd. They are master manipulators who are skilled at influencing and controlling other people and using this to their advantage.
Think of a sheep in wolves clothing. Their underlying message is masked by their spoken word, leaving a person confused and unaware.
A few key behaviors:
- Cunning, and use artificial tears
- Ask indirectly for needs to be met
- Skilled at influencing or controlling others to their own advantage
- Makes others feel obliged or sorry for them
Starting the process of better communication
One of the ways to start the process of better communication is to utilize John Gottman’s XYZ statement. It works like this, ‘when you do X in situation Y, I feel Z. An example in real time would be something like this. “When we are talking about an issue, and you interrupt me or cut me off mid-sentence, I feel invalidated and put down.
In this example (which happens frequently with couples) you are not telling the person what they are doing, rather than how you are feeling. Doing this helps to decrease the possibility of the fight escalating and helps each person slow down so they can think about what they are thinking and articulate their thoughts in a purposeful and intentional way.
The other person learns to listen and hears what the other person is saying and then repeats it. Each person has the opportunity to validate and clarify what is actually being said by the other person not what you think is being said – as this is a very common problem.
My role as a therapist is also one of mediator and negotiator.
Not only must I listen intently, but also reflect back to each person what I am hearing for clarity. Couples come to therapy because their relationship has derailed. They recognize on some level, that whatever they are doing, simply is not working. They also realize they need help to get their relationship back on track.
Good for them.
So, it is incumbent that therapy not only helps them do this but ensures they do not repeat the patterns as they progress through the therapy process. My role as a therapist is also one of mediator and negotiator. Not only must I listen intently, but also reflect back to each person what I am hearing for clarity.
Does any of this sound familiar? Changing your communication style and taking the steps to learn how to communicate better, is key to enhancing your relationship and maintaining and sustaining your relationship in healthy ways!