Couples Communication: Avoid This Communication Blunder

You’ve probably heard that effective couples communication is essential to a healthy marriage/relationship. In my marriage/couples counseling practice, I often see couples struggling to be heard by each other—to feel validated and deeply understood by each other.

A break-down in communication can negatively impact numerous areas of your relationship:  

  • The ability to effectively resolve conflict/disagreements;
  • How you negotiate and problem-solve together;
  • Maintaining emotional intimacy;
  • Offering each other mutual support;
  • Creating a fulfilling sex life (physical intimacy);
  • Nurturing a sense of comradeship;
  • And the ability to simply get things done (bill-paying, child-care issues, dealing with hectic schedules, etc).

A Top Communication Blunder To Avoid

Couples often get stuck because they are unable to stay on task during sensitive discussions—this is especially the case when emotional wounding and resentments have accumulated, and you each have a long-list of complaints against the other. Rather than dealing with one issue (for instance, “I don’t like it when you talk to me like that”), couples often do what John Gottman, Ph.D. calls “kitchen-sinking.”  

“Kitchen-sinking” occurs when you dump other issues to the conversational table—so a discussion about “failing to pick the kids up on time” leads to an argument about “not doing anything around the house” which jumps to “you never listen, even my friends commented about this” followed by “you’d rather be with your friends than me” which then leads to something else…you get the point.

There’s no way to sugarcoat how problematic this communication pattern is. Failing to stay focused on the topic of discussion will only overwhelm you both emotionally and shut down effective communication. Remember, communication implies that someone is speaking while the other person is listening—lobbing issue after issue at each other is an out-of-control verbal boxing match with both of you not listening to one another.

Effective Communication Action Step  

Heated topics that continuously lead to fights should be off-limits if they only further wounding and misunderstanding. You may need to seek professional help with these “hot-topic” problem areas.  

To take a step toward improving communication, you and your spouse/partner need to focus on improving your listening skills. Remember, no one feels listened to in a distressed marriage/relationship.

If you are honest with yourself, what grade would you give yourself as a listener? What grade would your partner give you?

What small steps can you immediately take to improve your listening grade? Focus on your listening skills, not your partner’s.

I think you’ll both notice that once you start feeling listened to, it becomes much easier to stay on topic. But this will take work and effort and time—patience is indeed a virtue, and, in this case, a necessity.

All best,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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