Improving Communication

Of all the issues that cause trouble for couples, perhaps the most frequent complaint marriage therapists hear is “We’re having trouble communicating with each other.”

It is a strange compliant to hear, because most couples are effective in communicating during courtship.

The way two people become a couple basically requires them to be willing to communicate, share and disclose information and feelings to each other. That sharing creates bonding, which is what draws the two of us together and deepens the relationship in the first place.

It is only later that conflicts, differing viewpoints, goals and temperaments come into play, and then communication skills seem to go right down the drain. It is when two people disagree—or when conflicts and disagreements escalate—that communication becomes difficult and labored.

So often the phrase “communication problems” is used by couples to describe a host of issues and emotions that have less to do with communication and a lot to do with feeling hurt, angry, disconnected and under-appreciated by the other.

With couples who enter marriage therapy complaining of communication problems with each other, I sometimes offer them communication skill-building exercises, as a way for them to talk more openly with each other as well as keep the lines of communication open. One such exercise follows.

Permit each person to address the following questions thoroughly:

  • In our relationship, I am happiest when… (give as many answers as possible)
  • In our relationship, I am saddest when…
  • In our relationship, I am angriest when…
  • The best things about our relationship are…
  • The things I like the best about you…
  • I am frustrated with you when…
  • One of the first things that attracted me to you was…
  • One of the things I wish you better understood about me is…
  • I appreciate it when you..
  • I feel closest to you when…
  • I think I’ve contributed to the problems in our relationship by…
  • I would feel more sexually vital with you if you… if I…
  • What I would like for you to appreciate and acknowledge me for is…
  • I would like to acknowledge you for…
  • If I were to give a little bit more to our relationship (and to you), I would…
  • The things I love about you…
  • What I want from you now is…

Try this exercise. It works. Be sure you are face-to-face, have eye contact, and make sure there are no distractions such as  T.V. or children. When you are the listener, your job is to be empathetic and to really hear. When you are the speaker, be gentle and thorough.

It is helpful to be specific, honest and tactful, and to give concrete examples. It is harmful to use half-truths to attempt to control your partner into feeling and thinking like you do, or to be hostile or belittling.

One book with lots of similar questions is The Art Of Self Discovery by Nathaniel Branden. (Bantam)

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