Communication for Couples
Difficulties with communication are an extremely common problem for couples in distress. This breakdown in communication can also lead to other issues such as the escalation of conflict, poor listening and difficulty with solving problems.
Communication can be broadly broken down into two areas; 'Receptive' and 'Expressive'. Expressive skills include the speaker being able to identify his or her own thoughts, feelings, wishes etc and being able to clearly express them in the first person (e.g. 'When you don't help get the children ready for school I feel annoyed', or 'I feel really happy when you come home and ask me how my day was'). Receptive skills include focused attending and non-verbal listening (nodding, eye-contact etc) paraphrasing and empathizing.
Below is an exercise designed to help practice these communication skills.
1. As a couple, assign each of you the role of either "speaker" or "listener".
2.The "speaker" will speak on a neutral subject (the weather etc), whilst the "listener" models negative non-verbal listening (looking away, shifting in chair, doodling etc).
3.Swap roles and repeat the exercise.
4.Discuss how it felt for each of you. What were your thoughts, feelings etc when your partner was modelling negative listening?
5. Revert to original roles. The speaker once again speaks on a neutral subject whilst the listener models positive non-verbal listening (sitting forward, eye contact, nodding).
6. Swap roles and discuss.
7. In your original roles practice negative verbal listening skills, take turns speaking whilst the other interrupts, talks over, finishes sentences etc.
8. Swap roles and discuss.
9. Now focus on positive verbal listening, this involves paraphrasing and empathizing. Paraphrasing requires us to listen to the intent of what your partner is saying and rephrase in a tentative and questioning manner (e.g. 'It sounds like you're saying that...?). Empathizing involves listening to the emotion in what your partner is saying and trying to understand it (e.g. 'That sounds difficult' or 'I imagine that was scary').
Practising these simple communication skills can help you feel closer and more intimate with your partner and allow you to understand each other's feelings, likes, dislikes and desires.
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