Communication issues are probably the most common reason that couples come to see me for therapy. Couples will often tell me “we just can’t seem to communicate about anything”, or “we are constantly arguing”, or “he/she just doesn’t understand me”. They might say we use to get along but now everything we say to each other ends up in a fight. So this is how couples come into my office, after being unable to communicate for usually a long time they are frustrated, hurt, and simply wanting the arguing to end. This arguing and lack of communication often leads one or both spouses to begin to doubt their commitment to the relationship.
With this in mind, I will begin working with the couple to improve communication, but the way I go about it is often a shock to the couple. You see, I will have the couple begin by listening to me and repeating back exactly what I say. I do this because I believe communication begins and ultimately ends with listening and observing not by talking. Arguments and communication problems occur when one person stops listening and instead starts defending themselves or worse judging their spouse. This type of communication will usually follow a very predictable pattern beginning with criticizing your spouses behavior, which then will often jump to contempt for the spouse with name calling (I have unfortunately had couples called their spouse all kinds of very hurtful names in my office). Once these names are spoken the ability to listen has gone out the window and the communication escalates into a full-blown argument, which usually has nothing to do with the original issue but rather has to deal with defending your heart. The emotions especially anger take over and the ability to think logically and communicate in healthy manner are gone. This will often go one until one or both spouses finally stop all communication by shutting down or walking away (known as stonewalling).
This four step process of communication breakdown is known as the 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse for relationships and is described in greater detail in a previous blog, but the important thing to note is that research has shown that this process is a good indication of future marital break-up and divorce. If you find yourself involved in this type of communication, I have a solution: Stop It Now. If you need help stopping it give me a call today.