couple with communication problems in couples therapy

Got Communication Problems? How To Turn It Around

It’s a humbling moment, but it changes your relationship for the better.

It’s that moment that you realize that you’re a big part of the problems in your relationship.

Until that moment, you feel frustrated with your partner that they are causing problems. You’re waiting for them to finally stop being stubborn or uncommunicative or insensitive to your needs.

In Emotionally Focused Couples therapy (EFT), we show couples that one person doesn’t cause relationship problems. It takes both of you. The problem isn’t your partner, and it isn’t you. It’s the dance that the two of you get in together.

This can be the hardest part of couples therapy. Sometimes both partners feel strongly that the other person is the one causing the relationship problems.

It’s your couples therapist’s job to help you arrive at that aha moment so that you see the impact of your reactions, your behaviors and your words. If you’re having communication problems over and over again, couples therapy will help you understand what you’re doing to make that pattern happen.

Here’s an example of a couple before and after the aha moment.

Cassie and Jerome were in premarital counseling. They were in love and excited about their upcoming wedding, and they had some communication problems they wanted to work through.

Cassie was convinced that these communication problems happened because Jerome often became distant and quiet and didn’t listen well.

Jerome said he wanted to listen better and would try harder to stay “present”.

In premarital counseling, the therapist helped them see their pattern more clearly.

Jerome sometimes got quiet for a moment, and when Cassie noticed it, she became anxious. She would ask with some stress in her voice, “Are you listening?”

Jerome would then hear the stress in Cassie’s voice and become overwhelmed. His listening style was to be quiet some of the time. He sometimes needed to slow down, pause, and then react. When she said “Are you listening?” with an anxious tone, he heard annoyance. He suddenly felt like a disappointment. He began to withdraw further and feel shame. The more he withdrew, the more Cassie felt anxious and all alone.

This pattern could get started in about 2 seconds. It had become a well-worn rut in their relationship that they would fall into often.

In premarital counseling, Jerome recognized that he wasn’t a bad listener. He recognized that he needed to say “Yes, I’m listening. Slow down for a second so I can respond.” He needed a few seconds to pause and let her words sink in.

Cassie had her aha moment.

She realized that the way she asked the question “are you listening?” was making the distance much bigger. She understood that her question sounded like an accusation to Jerome. That accusation was triggering Jerome’s feelings of inadequacy and causing him to create more distance.

Once she got that, she naturally softened. It was the turning point to the two of them getting power over their communication problems.

They still had different communication styles, even after that aha moment. Cassie still sometimes felt insecure when she was talking and Jerome was quiet, but after her aha moment, she knew she could breathe and slow down and reach out for Jerome. “Are you with me?” she would ask kindly. He could respond more easily without feeling accused. “I’m right here. I hear you.”

If you’ve got a good couples therapist, they will guide you to find your own aha moment from the first session forward. They will help you see how you each have the power to help turn your communication problems around.

*Here’s an exercise to help you find your own aha moment.

(Choose your best answer below)

Finish this sentence: When things are not going right between us, I find that I tend to react by:

  • Complaining
  • Trying to zone out
  • Becoming critical
  • Shutting you out
  • Blaming you or pointing out your mistakes
  • Trying to stop the conversation by leaving, turning to a task
  • Yelling
  • Not listening and numbing out
  • Telling you how to improve
  • Changing the subject
  • Becoming angry, blowing up
  • Defending myself and showing you that you are wrong

Now notice how your partner reacts when you do that.

This exercise can begin to show you what you contribute to your communication problems. That gives you the power to change them.

*From Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson, the creator of EFT

If you’re ready to talk to an experienced couples therapist, call us at (415) 534-4051 or schedule a free and confidential phone consultation with one of us now.