Relationships and communication
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading national public health institute of the United States, the rate of marriages in the US ranks 7 per 1,000 of the general population and the rate of divorce ranks 3.5 per 1,000. Amongst the top 10 common reasons for divorce, communication breakdown comes second after infidelity according to an article published by Registered Nurse Maryann Gromisch in Women's Health Online.
Research indicates that, following the romantic stage, which happens when we fall in love and lasts no longer than a few years, reality sets in and the couple enters what is called the maintenance stage. At this point, the image of the ideal partner we initially constructed begins to break down and underlying dissatisfaction might creep in. The myth of everlasting and effortless love crashes. If conflicts and difficulties are not openly addressed, what is sometimes called the polarisation stage may follow as a result of poor communication. Polarisation means that partners no longer stay neutral but begin to take sides in conflicts. As the relationship develops with time, each partner adopts increasingly opposing stances and the two mates become “polar opposites”. At this juncture, "trust and respect are threatened, and distorted perceptions and simplified stereotypes emerge." (Olczak and Pruitt, 1995, p. 81.) In other words, there is a power struggle going on with very few rules: fighting, blaming, attacking, shaming or humiliating have now free rein; or on the contrary, one or both partners begin to shut down and isolate themselves. The key to reestablishing the lost connection is effective communication whereby shaming, blaming, judging and criticising are banished.
For reconnection to happen, it is important for each partner to acknowledge and voice their feelings and needs rather than waiting for the other to change or to make things better. As each partner begins to take responsibility for their own feelings and needs, change in the ailing relationship is instigated and the couple enters what is referred to as the healing stage, which precludes reconciliation and hopefully leads to a stronger and healthier relationship.
Amongst the many blocks to effective communication, blaming and shaming instantly put the other on the defensive. When you feel criticised, chances are that you will start preparing your defence and will, in the process, stop listening to your accuser. True communication comes to a halt. At the other extreme, the silent treatment only serves to intensify the resentment and unsettled atmosphere between each partner.
Couple counselling does not work miracles nor will it necessarily save a relationship; what it does is provide a safe space in which each partner is given the opportunity to present their own view point, address their needs and hopes, and get a glimpse of what the relationship might feel like for the other. If you and your partner feel stuck in your relationship, authentic communication is the way forward.
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About Evelyne Riddle
Evelyne is a BACP Accredited Psychotherapist working with couples and individuals in Wimbledon and Putney. She holds an MA in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy and has a post qualification certificate in couple counselling. Having lived in different countries, she has been exposed to different cultures and is fluent in English and French.… Read more
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