When you buy a house any realtor will tell you that location, location, location is the most important consideration.
Similarly, any couples counsellor worth their salt should tell you that when attempting to repair your relationship, communication, communication, communication is what you should focus on.
Feelings...nothing but feelings.
The key to communication is to be vulnerable and talk about how you really feel with your partner. It's also crucial to be able to both listen and understand what they feel too.
This isn't always easy and many roadblocks can get in your way. Sometimes our families have never taught us about feelings when growing up, so emotion can be an alien experience. In other cases you may think being vulnerable is being weak, again something we are told or experience as we go through life.
As a result we begin to put up walls and develop negative coping mechanisms that just exacerbate any situation where vulnerability is needed.
4 Reasons Couples Fall Out When Communicating
So what are the 4 things that get in the way of you feeling, and more importantly, expressing them both fully and responsibly?
Usually your ego rears its ugly head in order to protect you in times of vulnerability and it tries to do this in a number of ways.
In your intimate relationships, conflict is one method your ego may choose. So when your ego chooses conflict what 4 things should you look out for and combat effectively?
The definition of criticism is stating ones complaints as a defect in your partner's personality.
For example, you might think the reason you aren't getting along is because your partner isn't doing A, B or C. You might also hear your partner telling you that because you are X, Y and Z, that is the reason that things aren't working out. Where there is criticism, there is usually blame. And blame only adds fuel to the fire in any conflict.
The combat criticism simply think before you speak. Giving yourself just a few seconds of space between your thoughts and feelings, and then pausing before responding can make a HUGE difference! And notice I suggest responding instead of reacting. They are two very different beasts.
Instead of using the word "you", use the word "I'. For example, saying "I feel ignored and that makes me feel not important, therefore I go quiet when this happens" is much better than saying "You make me feel bad because you ignore me and force me to shut down. I wish you wouldn't be so inconsiderate and selfish around me."
By starting conversations with "I" statements, you'll have a much better chance of not being critical and therefore avoiding criticism in return.
It goes without saying that when you feel criticised then the natural reaction is to defend yourself. This is usually because you feel hurt, and expressing that hurt is vulnerable, especially in the face of criticism.
Being defensive can be an easier go-to strategy that unfortunately only escalates conflict. Classic defensive behaviour might be to play the victim, be righteous or play innocent when feeling under attack.
In order to kick defensiveness to the curb, you can take responsibility for your part of any problem, even when being criticised! It's a great way to defuse any conflict.
For example, if you are criticised by your partner for always making you both late to social functions, you can say something like "I agree that this is partly my problem and I'd like to work on this with your support." This is a much better response than a defensive one, such as "Well, you can talk! You are just as bad as me at being late, if not worse! I can't believe you are blaming me when it's clearly your fault!"
If your partner gets defensive with you, then contempt may rear it's ugly head. This is where any conflict can get nasty.
Contempt occurs when you are your partner attempts to adopt a position of superiority, using tools like sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, mockery or hostile humour.
In relationship counselling, we focus on identifying contempt when couples talk with each other. Then we offer up an antidote that can work better for them.
For example, rather than saying "You're an idiot!" we could say "I can understand why you might feel that way and I'd like to hear what you need right now."
Stonewalling is where the listener in any conflict or conversation will withdraw and shut down, basically refusing to engage in dialogue.
The reasons for this are often physiological as well as emotional. Perhaps you can't be in relationship with your partner at any moment in time due to feeling flooded or overwhelmed, stressed, under attack or you are experiencing high levels of anxiety.
This can take the form of a tight throat, a knot in your stomach, back pain, tightening of the jaw or your body vibrating because of anger, upset or shame. Often you or partner might feel like a victim and say something like "I can't take this no more!" or "Why are you always picking on me!?"
The antidote here is to self-soothe as soon as you recognise they symptoms of stonewalling. This could take the form of focusing on deep breathing, removing yourself from the room for a short period of time and taking a short walk.
It's recommend that you should spend at least 20 minutes, or more, on any antidote to stonewalling as this is how long it takes the body to calm down and reset itself.
By being aware of these 4 reasons why couples fall out when communicating, and using the antidotes described above, will help you and your relationship become more fulfilling. The more you are aware and the more you practice, the better it will become!