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Image by Bob Oh

One of the most common complaints couples enter therapy with is, “we just can’t communicate!”  Communication for a lot of people should be an exchange of thoughts, feelings, and desires between two people who love each other and want to have a supportive partnership.  Unfortunately, this is often not how people communicate.  


Some of the ineffective patterns I see are the following:

  • Communication is initiated with the intention of making someone change or to exert control.

  • Couples use inflammatory words or tone of voice that escalate their partner’s response.

  • Assuming you know how someone thinks or feels, or you catastrophize.

  • Fighting words are “you, should, never, always, put-downs, sarcasm, contempt.”

  • People overall want to feel heard and understood regarding their feelings. Too often people are busy thinking about their response or comeback argument rather than connecting to their partner’s feelings and desires/requests.

  • Disagreements about communication tend to break down in two areas: content versus process.  Contentmeans I do not agree with “what you are saying” whereas, process means “I don’t like the manner or style of communication in which you talk to me.”  I encourage clients to decide which one is the problem.

  • One of my favorite mantras is “You can communicate for connection or self-protection, but you can do them both at the same time,” consider your intention before speaking and choose words that are in line with the goal.

  • Don’t be vague. Know what it is you want before you attempt to ask for it. Try to frame your complaint into a request, be specific and positive. 

  • Succumbing to the inherent anxiety that difficult conversations can trigger and then avoiding it altogether.  Shoving the feelings under the rug.

  • Above all try to remember/create the “big picture” (“we” instead of “me”), a partnership, and give your partner the benefit of a doubt.

If you feel I can help you and your partner build new communication muscles, please call me.  Anyone can learn effective communication skills…

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