Part II of Angelus’ Couples’ Communication & Connection Series
What is Good Couple’s Communication?
Good communication doesn’t mean that everyone agrees. It doesn’t even mean that no one gets frustrated! What it does mean is that everyone has their point of view heard and validated. Good communication happens when people are talking in a calm, respectful, and honest way. This can be hard to do when emotions are involved! But with practice, you and your partner can figure out where you might get stuck. Do you tend to get heated during a discussion and speak louder, which may lead your partner to withdraw? Maybe it’s the other way around: your partner yells and you then you get scared and leave the area, or stay present but stop responding. These scenarios may leave you both feeling as though nothing gets resolved. Counselors can really help mediate these situations and help couples to build new patterns and ways of communicating effectively so that growth can occur.
Couples’ Communication Do’s and Don’ts
It helps to have some agreed upon do’s and don’ts in your communication. Being able to identify and agree on what is ‘out of bounds’ helps to keep both of you accountable for your behaviors and puts the focus back on monitoring yourself rather than the other person. Here are a few of our favorites to start with:
Couples’ communication DO’s
- Take turns talking
- Listen when it’s not your turn
- Clarify, don’t assume
- Stick to the facts, not feelings
- Be willing to compromise
- Stick to one topic at a time
- Be honest
- Pay attention to body language (Their’s & Yours)
- Take breaks when needed
- Stay OFF your cell phone when talking
- Talk Don’t Text
Couples’ Communication DON’T
- Talk over your partner
- Make Threats
- Use sarcasm
- Use name calling
- Make false promises
- Bring up issues from the past
- Deliberately say hurtful things
- Get physical
- Argue just to argue
How are you and your partner doing when it comes to the actions listed above? Is sarcasm used during an argument? Do you find yourself intentionally trying to hurt your partner verbally and then apologizing profusely after? Or do you both use pretty respectful language but still feel stuck? There are many more things to consider.
What’s Your Default Communication Style?
Everyone has a general mode of operating. Some people share their thoughts and feelings much more readily than others. You may be slow to open up, but when you get comfortable, you are totally fine with communicating in a direct way. Keep in mind, it is hard to communicate to someone what you are thinking and feeling when you aren’t sure yourself! Take some time to yourself for self-exploration. Knowing yourself well really helps you become aware of what you bring to the table in your relationship as well as what you want and need, the non-negotiables. It’s also important to know if your “default” mode changes when you become emotionally activated, meaning feeling an intense emotion such as sadness, anger, frustration, rejection, etc. In general, there are three main ways of communicating: passively, assertively, and aggressively. Below we will define each and the pros and cons of communicating in such ways. If you see yourself in more than one of the categories, that’s ok! Take a moment to identify which modes of communication you and your partner gravitate toward in times of peace and during an argument.
The Passive Communicator
Communicating passively often entails withholding some parts of yourself. This may be your full and honest opinion, or you may simply remove yourself from a situation. It may also mean that you often defer to your partner’s opinion to avoid conflict. That is one of the main benefits of passivity. However, you may often avoid conflict, but the downside is that your true self and thoughts may not be heard. If you tend to be a passive communicator, some may perceive you as easy-going while others may think you are quiet, a doormat, and even weak. You and your needs may be easily disregarded, ignored and devalued.
The Aggressive Communicator
Aggressiveness serves a lot of purposes. Some people behave aggressively because they enjoy intimidating others or it makes them feel powerful. Aggression works for some people in that they can bully others into giving them what they want. Aggressive communication might look like yelling, name-calling, or being physically intimidating among many other things. The downside to being aggressive is that people often become afraid of you instead of respecting you. Aggressive people often mistake the two and think they are gaining someone’s respect, but instead they are gaining their fear and dislike. In a relationship, it may make your partner withdraw. Aggressive people are often thought of as bossy, intimidating, bullies, and disrespectful. They may get their way in the moment but they will often end up alone.
The Assertive Communicator
Assertive communicators speak their truth in a clear and respectful way. People often perceive assertive people as confident and honest. The payoff to being assertive is that you can rest in the knowledge that you spoke your truth. However, that doesn’t mean that you will get what you want or that the person you’re communicating with will agree! But you can feel good about acting with integrity and not have to second guess whether you spoke up for yourself or not. Assertive people are able to communicate their wants and needs while maintaining healthy boundaries.
So I Know My Style(s), Now What?
Everyone has likely said something hurtful they didn’t mean in the heat of the moment during a fight with a loved one. The point of these exercises isn’t to beat yourself up if you have behaved aggressively in the past. The point is to become aware of your behaviors and what purpose they have served so you can communicate more effectively and with compassion in the future.
In any relationship, you certainly pick your battles and you may see parts of yourself in each of these categories at different times. As you can see, there are potential payoffs that people receive for each mode of communication. What type of communication do you gravitate toward and how do you think it may influences situations with your partner? How might their style influence your style in heated conversations? Recognizing the dance that you and your partner partake in can help you break potentially unhelpful and unhealthy cycles.
Consider staying clear of Gottman’s ‘Four Horsemen’ of communication and the damage they can create in the relationship:
- Criticism; Verbally attacking personality or character
- Contempt: Attacking sense of self with an intent to insult or abuse
- Defensiveness; Victimizing yourself to ward of perceived attack and reverse the blame
- Stonewalling: Withdrawing to avoid conflict and convey disapproval, distance and separation.
Understand that it’s ok to disagree and that there is no “winner” in a fight. If you would like more help and assistance in your relationship, please contact Angelus Therapeutic Services to schedule an appointment and start your journey to renewed healthy communication in your relationship. We can be reached at 724-654-9555 or by completing our New Client Contact form here.
Counselors can certainly help point out the areas in which you become stuck or defensive and can help guide you towards antidotes for each of the above horsemen. To read more about the horsemen and their antidotes click here. This can be tremendously helpful to breakthrough what may seem like a brick wall, and allow for growth and renewed fulfillment and connection in your relationship.
Check back at Angelus next week as our blog continues on the topic of couples and addresses the issues of infidelity and loss of trust.
Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University and soon to be clinician at Angelus Therapeutic Services & Nessa L Wilson, LCSW Director Angelus Therapeutic Services