Why can't we talk?
It’s a common problem that couples who present at counselling say that they are unable to communicate effectively with each other. Sometimes one partner feels that the other is ‘holding back’ – not being honest about how they feel or what they think. For some couples, the frustration of feeling that their partner is hiding something, or more hurtfully that they don’t trust them, can escalate into recriminations or painful withdrawal. There can be several reasons for this. One reason behind withholding can be that the partner does not want to share – that there are things they want to keep private or even secret. Deliberately excluding your partner can be hurtful and ultimately may be an indication that you are in the wrong relationship.
However, there are secrets kept in relationships where the person keeping them has no idea why. Our unconscious processing can lead to certain behaviours or actions that impact our partners, for example walking away or shutting down difficult discussions, or flaring up at a perceived provocation. We can be guilty of repetitive behaviours or actions that impact negatively on our partners but no matter how often our partner tells us how they feel about it we don’t change them. This could be a deliberate action but can also be due to not understanding why we are doing them in the first place.
A lot of couples make assumptions about how their partner will react to certain issues, so withhold information as they assume they will ‘know’ how they will respond or are afraid that what they say will impact negatively. You can only take responsibility for your own reactions and responses and then be open to hearing what your partner says. Good communication involves the ability to be able to reflect on what you want. Sharing your inner most thoughts and feelings with your partner helps connect you emotionally and increases the level of intimacy between you both. Good communication also involves listening to what your partner is saying, being able to find a way forward that helps you both, rather than a position that just benefits you.
Counselling can help unlock some the reasons why some people find it difficult to be transparent to their partner. Being emotionally available or vulnerable can be a scary place to be – it can mean that you are opening old wounds or leaving yourself open to new hurts. In order to be able to trust, you must be clear just exactly what your feelings are about. This can only happen after you have been able to identify and understand what those feelings are. By understanding what you want, being able to articulate this openly and honestly and receive and process your partner’s position can help develop a mutually respectful basis. This will enable you both to connect as a unit and move forward as a couple rather than an isolated and unhappy individual. Counselling can start this process and help you (and your partner) to develop new ways of communicating.
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About Donna Sullivan
Donna Sullivan is a BACP registered integrative counsellor who has worked with offenders in prison, women's outreach services and private practice. She specialises in relationship issues, in particular how men and women communicate their vulnerability to each other and is currently employed in helping men and women improve their relationships.… Read more
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