Couples often tell me that they can’t speak with one another outside my therapy office. To clarify, they say that they can engage in small talk or discuss matters related to kids. But when it comes to discussing their needs or feelings about their relationship, forget about it.
How does this happen? These couples love one another. They’ve built lives together. But they struggle with communicating and sharing their true feelings with one another.
If you’re someone who struggles with talking with your spouse, think about your closest friend other than your spouse. Do you struggle with talking openly with him or her? Most likely not. And why is that? Because you feel safe, and would trust your friend with your life.
The feeling of safety within the relationship is essential for open and honest communication. It’s critical to create a safe place within the home that feels as safe as the therapist’s office. If trust has been broken, it’s important to put the time and work into re-building that. If you can’t speak about sensitive topics without engaging in a screaming match, it’s time to work on managing your emotions and finding better coping strategies.
Here are a few key ground rules for treating your spouse like your friend:
Respect is paramount when it comes to a healthy relationship. You respect your friends’ ideas and opinions, and the same should go for your spouse too.
Support, support, support
Have your spouse’s back just like you would a good friend’s. Listen to his or her needs, concerns, or aspirations, and let him or her know you’re there along every step of the way.
We often attack or treat the one closest to us in the harshest manner. That’s not acting like a friend. Instead, empathize with your spouse and think through how your words will affect him or her. And think about how you’d feel if the same things were said to you.
A therapist can certainly help to facilitate communication and encourage active listening and sharing in couples counseling, but it’s important to practice those techniques outside of the therapy office. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with the person you chose to share your life with, and you may be surprised at how much happier you both are. You may even end up feeling like friends again.