Taking The First Steps Toward Improving Communication
When I ask the question of how a couple would like to improve their relationship, I almost always recieve an answer involving “we need to communicate better”. This theme of improving communication shows up frequently when working with couples, and often those I work with are wanting quick solutions to improving their communication skills with one another. Of course, there is no fast way of unlearning harmful communication patterns and relearning new, healthy patterns, but one thing couples can do to start this learning journey is to make time at least once a day to practice. Below, I outline a communication activity that gives couples a chance to practice what they learn in therapy.
Before any verbal communication takes place, use body language to tell your partner that you are listening to them. Put your phone down, turn off the TV and focus on your partner when they are speaking. Sit or stand with your partner in close proximity, and avoid one of you sitting while the other stands. This can create a perception of a power differential, even on a subconscious level.
This is the part where the actual talking takes place! This exercise contains 5 topics that both partners take turns discussing. When your partner is speaking it is your job to listen and understand, and when you are speaking your job is to convey your feelings and thoughts as accurately as possible. The topics of this exercise are meant to be discussed in a specific order so that you can end on a positive topic.
Hopes & Wishes
During this topic you can discuss any hopes or wishes you have as a couple, or just in general.
“I hope we can save up enough for a vacation this year”
“I hope we can learn to connect better as a couple”
“I wish I could be at my friend’s wedding tonight”
This is a chance to share any new information with your partner that you haven’t already, or to reiterate information you have already shared.
“I got that promotion I had been wanting!”
“I learned that our child is scared of the ocean”.
Complaints & Possible Solutions
This topic is meant to address issues within the couple to prevent stewing and resentment-building. A gentle way to introduce your complaint is to start with “I notice”.
“I notice that you occasionally interrupt me when I’m speaking. I prefer if you wait until I’ve finished to contribute.”
“I noticed that you didn’t let me know you were going out with your friends last night. I prefer if you would send me a text next time.”
Worries, Concerns or Puzzles
This discussion is aimed at worries that couples can tackle as a team.
“I am worried I won’t be able to take our child to her football game next week.”
“I am worried because my anxiety is acting up and I have so much to do today.”
Appreciations & Excitements
This topic allows us to end on a positive note with our partner by sharing what we appreciate about them, or what we are excited about.
“I really appreciated how you brought my lunch to work today.”
“I appreciate that you made time to listen to me vent about work.”
“I am excited that we get to spend the weekend together.”
While this exercise seems fairly straight forward, it can be easy for couples to discover hiccups along this process. I encourage you to talk this over with your couples therapist to address challenges that arise during communication.
For more guidance with communicating effectively as a couple, there really is no substitute for a trained couples therapist. Give Life Enhancement Counseling Services a call at 407-443-8862 to set up an appointment with one of our couples’ specialists.