A common complaint from couples relates to their difficulty with communication. These types of problems can feel overwhelming and discouraging. However, once a couple starts counseling, they quickly recognize that their communication problems are not as widespread as originally thought. For example, effective communication is needed to coordinate schedules, set an appointment and show up together.
Couples find that their communication problems occur when they are unable to decide or reach a mutual agreement. Every couple has topics in which they agree to disagree. What makes these topics more difficult? They often have a strong emotional undercurrent. Some topics have a more obvious undercurrent: money, sex, parenting, in-laws. Other topics are not as obvious.
For example, Bob and Jane have a recurring fight over gifts. Jane expresses frustration when Bob seems put off by the gifts she gives. Bob acknowledges that he appreciates her gifts and finds them very thoughtful and useful. In counseling, he comes to recognize how his past shows up in the present history regarding gifts. He recognizes during his parent’s divorce, his father would use gifts as a substitute for emotional connection. Jane identifies that she shows her love through giving of thoughtful gifts. She recognizes that Bob’s apprehension feels like he is rejecting her love. It becomes apparent that their difficulty in communication is not just about the gifts but what they represent for each person.
Take another example of Cindy and James. Cindy may have had a particularly rough week at work feeling unsupported by her team. She then comes home to find that James had not put away his shoes. She then expresses anger over this with a disproportionate energy. In other words, it is annoying to have shoes in the middle of the floor, but when the intensity of the discussion conveys more than just frustration. She already knows that not feeling supported is a sensitive topic for her. She recognizes that it is easier to be angry about shoes than to discuss her experience of not feeling supported when James leaves his shoes on the floor.
Many times, couples ask for specific skill to be able to better communicate. To be specific, what is needed are the skills to communicate at an emotional level. Couples counseling will help to narrow the focus of where the problem lies. It will help you differentiate what is working versus what is not. Once there is a mutual understanding of what the problem is, then the counselor will guide you moving toward newer ways of communicating and emotionally connecting.