So many couples entering marriage counseling cite communication as their chief complaint. The problem isn’t that they can’t communicate. The problem is they have stopped communicating with each other. Here are some things we do that keep us from having productive communication. . . .
Right Fighting – Some people just have a need to be right. They will continue fighting, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are wrong, simply because they just can’t tolerate not being the victor. Interestingly, it isn’t even that satisfying when they win. If you are always right, then that means the people around you always have to be wrong. Sucks for them!
Enmeshment – Enmeshment is basically when our emotions are all entangled with another person’s. So when the other person feels a negative emotion, we don’t feel okay. When they feel positive emotions, we feel okay. Example, I sense that you are feeling something and I need to change that so that I can feel okay. Do you see the problem? In order for me to feel okay, I’ve got to get you to change what you are feeling to something that is acceptable to me. That’s a big task because I really don’t have any control over you!
Kitchen Sinking – When an argument breaks out, so often people just cannot resist the temptation to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the mix. You know what I mean – every unresolved complaint that had been lying dormant suddenly springs to the surface. This is a real problem because it is hard enough to deal with ONE problem in an argument, and now you have 10 problems on the table. And clearly you are not excellent at resolving conflict in your relationship, or you wouldn’t be reading this!
Not Listening – People have a deep need to be heard and understood. In our effort to be heard, however, most of us engage in a lot of behavior that counteracts our partner’s ability to listen. Things like talking over each other, interrupting, constructing our defense instead of listening, storming out, name calling, cross-complaining, sarcastic jabs, yelling, etc., show our partner that we are unwilling to hear them. Now both people are trying so hard to be heard that nobody’s listening!
How should we communicate?
- Humility. Look it up. Read about it. Understand it. Your need to be right has no place in a relationship. When you are wrong – admit it. Humbling yourself in this way to your partner is one of the greatest acts of love you will ever give your partner. And it doesn’t feel as bad as you think it will!
- One. Issue. At. A. Time. Resist the temptation to bring old arguments to the table. If your partner introduces a new issue in the middle of another, gently redirect them back to the original topic. You’ll be lucky to get the one issue dealt with.
- De-Enmesh – Stop trying to change what your partner feels. The real problem is your anxiety and you are dealing with it through your partner. Figure out what your anxiety is about and deal with that. Then deal with your partner’s feelings.
- Listen – You have to stop trying to be heard and start trying to hear. Forget about past hurts and misdeeds (not forever, just for now) and listen. Once you show your partner you are willing to hear them, they will be more willing to hear you. Don’t begrudge having to go first. Just do it and see what happens!