With the couples I see there is one area that we always need to focus on: clear communication. The root of so much that causes distance and hurt in relationships is miscommunication. Patterns seem to becomes habitual over time and never get corrected so that the couple is left wondering what their partner meant or what they really want.
I offer my couples a couple of key phrases to use when they are missing each other and getting upset:
Saying, “What I want you to hear is…” and “What I need you to know is…”
To best employ those two statements the person offering them must first go inside and get clear within themselves what it is that the want their partner to hear or know. That sounds simple but it requires reflection and getting to a clear place with what they want to communicate.
Armed with that clarity they can them come back and face one another and gently and with strength say this core truth(s) they want to say. It is surprising how this exchange can shift what is happening. There can be the sigh of relief as their frustration, for example, is heard and getting to express what they want known by the other is listened to. The follow up can be a shared exploration of the issues with less reactivity because the truth expressed is not being said with frustration but stated as a truth.
I often coach the couple to have these talks sitting down, facing towards each other with good eye contact. It shows each of them that they are being focused on and attended to by the other. This creates a greater sense of connection with other distractions placed aside until the talking is done.
Another way that I help couples communicate is to use active listening. This technique is simply listening carefully to the statement your partner is making. When they are done, you repeat back to them what you heard. For example, “What I heard you say is that you are frustrated with the way I don’t follow through with your requests.” Followed by, “Is that what you said?” so that they have a change to make corrections or validate that you are hearing what they are trying to communicate to you.
This is a good way to practice your listening skills and might illustrate what gets in the way of being present and hearing what is being said. It can be an opportunity to become aware that background music, having the TV on, hearing kids playing can make it close to impossible to focus on the conversation and they need to be removed before trying this exercise again.
A third technique I use with couples is to have them is to do a role reversal with their partner.
When one party is upset and it is clear their partner is not getting what they need or are feeling I will have them role reverse and the partner who is upset is now being played by their partner.
I will do a process where I “interview” them and ask questions as if the unaffected partner is the one who is upset. I might ask things like: “It seems like you are upset with “Bill”. What do you think is at the core of your upset? When did this start? What is one thing that he could do that would help you right now? By putting the person in the others shoes, so to speak, it creates a different way in that might bring more empathy forward or insight into how they can respond to their partner in a helpful or caring way.
All of these ways are vehicles to having clearer communication to help keep your partnership on track for greater satisfaction and joyfulness.