There are many reasons couples attend marriage counseling. In my experience as a marriage counselor, one of the foundational issues in relationship problems relates to communication. Often these difficulties have its roots in not saying what you mean, not feeling understood by the other or feeling that your partner is not listening. This breakdown of communication in relationships can lead to resentment, problems with trust and emotional connection, and eventually tarnish the foundation of your relationship.
Most couples don’t realize there is a breakdown in communication. Some do, and unfortunately don’t know where they are falling short or how to fix it. If you are in this situation, your relationship’s status is akin to a tornado. You can feel the tension of the tornado and see the destruction it’s caused, but being inside of the tornado has made you vulnerable to sensitivity and leaves you unable to see or think clearly to fix it.
Whether your relationship has just begun to feel the effects of communication breakdown or it has been a problem for many years, I have provided below two very effective techniques you can start practicing on your own at home. Both are based in psychological theory, and are important aspects of what I teach and model in marriage counseling sessions with my clients.
- Reflective Communication: In every relationship, we all have a need to be heard and understood. To ensure that your partner feels heard and understood by you, providing reflective communication is key. This is achieved through two steps: actively listening to what your partner is saying while remaining mostly silent until they are finished speaking (saying ‘ok’ and ‘mmhm’ are fine); and, reflect back to them what you believe you heard them say. Reflecting back to your partner will achieve three goals; 1) allow your partner to feel heard & understood; 2) provide an opportunity for your partner to clarify what they said and what you heard, and 3) decrease the likelihood that there will be miscommunication or misunderstanding.
- Intermittent Positive Reinforcement: In every relationship, we all have a need to feel validated and recognized. To ensure that your partner feels validated and recognized by you, providing intermittent verbal positive reinforcement is key. Positive reinforcement is pointing out (validating) the positive things your partner does without them having to ask for it. This can be accomplished by simply saying “I noticed you went to the gym 3 days this week and I can tell you are working really hard- you look really good”, or “I noticed that you took care of the laundry for me today-it really helped me feel less stressed out with all of the things I have going on. I really appreciate it”. When I say intermittent- do this very randomly. Doing this too much can over-satiate (become annoying or not seem genuine) and will not be as much appreciated by your partner. Doing this too little will have a very limited effect- if any at all. This is truly a balancing act. Practicing intermittent positive reinforcement will increase the likelihood that your partner will engage in these activities more without having to be asked, and will help them feel validated and recognized.