Communication 101 for Couples
by Elizabeth Shannon Strull, M.A.

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 hear us.

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 feelings

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.


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