As a couples’ therapist I am witness to the complexity of relationships. The push and pull of the contemporary struggle; the unique components of stress. Yet every therapy session has similar beginning – an issue I inevitably anticipate: “We don’t communicate…we argue all the time.”
Inability to “talk it out” spawns patterns which can be deadly to relationships. Emotions that feed each other, like fear and anger, careen out of control. Frustration escalates; voices shrill.
Invalidity of the partner’s words or behaviors is a particularly female pattern. This no-win attitude enhances mutual distress and generally encourages stalemate. Men often counter with withdrawal or avoidance – similarly ineffective, since problems won’t go away by themselves.
Another stumbling block to communication is negative interpretation. Here one partner assigns a dire motive to the other, as in the flat assertion: “He/she wants to leave me.” Finally, when repeated strategies for resolution have apparently failed, somebody finally gives up.
History and myth prove that lack of communication, ever an eternal issue, and breeds discord. That’s why we empathize with hapless Desdemona and are outraged by Othello’s impassioned stupidity. Those of us familiar with this sort of thing know that therapeutic intervention might have spared the tragedy.
It is imperative that individuals know their feelings. Unresolved anger, and getting stuck in it, is not unusual. Yet anger is often a surface emotion. What is beneath?
Try this exercise. Sit quietly and take a few deep breaths. Complete these sentences:
I feel hurt because…
I feel afraid because…
I feel wounded because…
I feel sad because…
This is also an excellent practice for couples. Each partner should share his feelings for 10 minutes without interruption.
Partners seeking a more advanced level might try this four-step exercise devised by Angela Arrien, PhD.
1) I feel…(i.e., upset)
2) I notice…(i.e., you’re getting home from work at 8 or 9 pm)
3) I want…(i.e., to spend 3 or 4 evenings with you a week)
4) I am willing/unwilling to…(i.e., sacrifice our relationship for money; job)
Not enough can be argued for good communication – healthy relationships need a daily dose of it. Robert Louis Stevenson said it best: “Marriage is one long conversation.”