Some couples are clear that the main thing they want to work on is communication. They are not interested in in-depth couples work but desperately want to be able to talk to and be heard by each other. For these couples, I offer focused Communication Counseling.
Why is communication so important? A good marriage is not one without problems; it's one that can work through the problems. And this is where communication plays a vital role. If a couple does not know how to navigate peacefully through a conflict, and rather tends to avoid it or perhaps gets into heated power struggles, nothing gets resolved, resentment builds, and repairs are never made. John Gottman, who collected decades worth of data on marriage and relationships, identified through his research that the lack of adequate repair following an argument is the biggest contributor to marital unhappiness and divorce.
The main approach I use for Communication Counseling is the "Imago Dialogue", a three step process for connection developed by Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD. Although it looks simple, the process was formulated through extensive study of psychological theories of relationship, and clinical work with couples. The three steps in the process are mirroring, validation and empathy.
As part of this process, we will look at communication from the point of what is expressed, and from the point of what is heard. I will invite you to take accountability for what you say, and for what you hear. You will find your voice in your relationship, and create new listening and understanding. When a couple is able to adopt this communication approach in their lives and learn how to regulate their emotions, a deeper and more meaningful connection can begin to take place in the relationship.
COMMUNICATION TIP: To motivate your spouse to talk to you (the text below assumes a wife is trying to get her husband to talk; however, this could go either way):
1. If you ask him a question, then allow him time to answer without explaining to him why he is wrong.
2. If you ask him a question, then allow him time to answer without needing to point out to him why his answer doesn’t make sense.
3. If you ask him a question, let him know you want to hear his answer by – not responding (cross examining) to the first thing that does not line up or what seems to contradict a previous answer.
4. Let him know that you will hold your tongue and not interrupt his answers. He needs to feel some respect, and this is demonstrated by allowing him to complete his thought process.
5. Give him the questions in writing.
6. Use the phrases, ‘tell me more about that’; ‘that’s interesting, what allowed you to do that?’
7. Avoid the ‘Entrapment’ questions. These generally are questions where you are trying to lead your man into saying what you think he SHOULD say. Styling or re-phrasing your questions in such a way to make him answer ONLY the way you think he should is the same.
8. Give him time to think. Let him get the nerve up to answer. Allow him time to formulate his thoughts. (Remember, thinking about something DOES NOT mean he is lying!!!)
9. Try to avoid asking the ‘FEELING’ questions. Like ‘how did you feel when you were doing…’ ‘What did you feel after…’ ‘How did it feel when she said…’ Because quite likely he wasn’t thinking about any of these things.
10. Use the phrase, ‘I’d be interested to hear how you see…’ or
11. ‘I know you don’t really want to but it would mean a lot to me, if you told me about…’
12. If you have done this, then, admit that you have not really listened to him in the past. So really listen to his response to that statement.
13. Don’t start these conversations late at night.
14. Set a time limit on these talks and let him know what it is, and then stick to it!
15. Try sticking to one subject at a time. Avoid jumping around.
16. Remember he is not ‘rational & sound’ in his mind.