Monday, January 2, 2012

Relationship Commandment Two- Communicate With Your Partner

"Communicate with my partner? That sounds easy enough.", you say. Ask yourself this, if communicating with my partner is easy, than why are you fighting all the time? Worse yet, why are we fighting over and over about the same things?

Truth is, we don't communicate all that well. We take for granted that because we have been talking since the ripe old age of 2 and have learn vocabulary and grammar that we are effective communicators. Talking and communicating are 2 different things. Though you can't communicate without talking, you can talk without communicating.

This post isn't about how the nuances of effective communicating. What this post is about is to help you learn to focus on what to communicate about.

Truth is, all couples fight. Whether you're talking about happy couple and not so happy couples. As a matter of fact, if a couple comes to me for counseling and their not arguing I'm really concerned. This usually means they have stopped communicating all together. They have now become dangerously close to the end of their relationship.

Arguing in and of itself does not end relationships. Research states that there are 10 - 15 topics a couple will argue about from the day they meet to the day they part. These topics just never get resolved.

What does end relationships is failing to focus on what we're really arguing about. The true underlying, not so obvious, meaning of the argument that signals to the brain that the emotional connection we have is in jeopardy.

Let's look at an example of what I mean. A wife starts an argument over the fact her husband leaves his socks on the floor all the time. This could just be one of those things that the couple will argue over indefinitely. What if, the argument is over something deeper. The wife starts the argument because the socks on the floor is a symbol of how her husband never seems to listen to her. Her argument causes the husband to withdraw because she is always complaining about the socks on the floor and he is left feeling like he cannot do anything right. His withdrawal cause her to argue more because withdrawal in a relationship is a threat to connection. So is not being good enough for your partner.

Repeat this pattern many times and you can see how the argument is not really about socks. Remember at some point in time the request to pick up the socks was just that, a request. It is the lack of responding to this request, added to other times she is left feeling unheard, that leads to the argument.

The argument then can be looked at from a deeper place. It is about, for the wife, are you there for me? Do you hear me and value me? Am I important to you? For the husband it's about am I good enough for you. I try my best but it does seem to be enough.

How does one go about changing this pattern of interaction? How do we change this negative cycle that plagues us?

Ask: First, learn to ask for what you really need. The argument in the above example is not really about the husbands poor sock picking up skills. It is about being heard. State what it is that you need and how your partner can help. "I feel unimportant to you because you never listen to my request to pick up your socks." If the husband responses poorly to this then "Your shutting down right now adds to me feeling unimportant and unheard. I need you to listen to me for a moment."

Persist: People frequently will try once and then immediately declare that it doesn't work. Anything new takes time to become the way we do things.

Perform: Do your best to take action to your partners request for help.

Listen: Truly listen to what your partner is saying. Listen for what they're not saying. Listen to what your saying. Is the argument about socks or something deeper?

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