I see many couples in my practice who come
seeking relationship counseling. In the first session I invariably hear from one
of them, "we have problems communicating" or "we don’t communicate."
I also sometimes hear from couples that the problem is
"not what he/she says but how he/she says it that bothers me".
One of the ways I help clients learn to communicate more
effectively in therapy is to invite them to use "I" statements. For example, a
wife may find herself saying to her husband, "you always forget to take out the
trash!" Using an "I" statement, this can be re-stated as, "I feel frustrated and
let down when I notice the trash has not been taken out." This kind of statement
describes a feeling honestly and directly while inviting our partner to truly
Anytime we hear someone start a sentence by saying "you
always. . ." or "you never. . ." most of us probably don’t even want to listen
to the rest of the statement, because we feel attacked and start getting ready
to defend ourselves. This is one of many ways couples mis-communicate and end up
alienating each other. I call this kind of communication "door closers." You may
even feel sometimes as if your partner has just shut the door in your face with
the way they talk to you.
I also teach my clients that two of the best "I"
statements they can use as often as possible are "I’m sorry" and "I forgive
you." These are "door openers" to more intimate communication.
As you probably already know, men and women differ in the
way they communicate and express thoughts and feelings. Women often forget that
men tend to be "task oriented" and want to "fix it". Men sometimes have a hard
time understanding why women get so emotional and need to talk a lot about their
If you find yourself increasingly frustrated and believe
you are not being heard and understood by your partner, maybe its time to come
in for some brief couples therapy. There are many other communication practices
that a therapist can demonstrate to help you improve the intimacy and
satisfaction in your relationship.
For more information, please contact Elizabeth Shannon Strull at
805-583-3976 ext. 45.