Frustrated by not being able to talk? Tired of finding that your attempts at problem solving just lead to negativity and high drama? Overwhelmed by conversations that always go south? We see this problem in both counseling sessions and in marriage groups. We hear all too often, “we just can’t talk without it becoming an argument or a fight.” Why do so many couples go down this road?
Gary Smalley in The DNA of Relationships understands it exactly; and it’s exactly what we see with couples time and time again. He says there are four ways couples waste time and frustrate the process when it comes to having a conversation about solving differences.
Instead of Solving Problems, We Create Them!
- Who’s right and who’s wrong?
- Who’s at fault or to blame?
- What really happened?
- What’s the solution?
The Key: As a couple, starting communication anywhere other than attending to the emotions will derail you most of the time. Even trying to answer the question, “What’s the solution?” can derail a conversation if the emotions are ignored.
And remember, HOW you talk to each other will always be more important than WHAT you are talking about!
Think about your arguments and fights. You probably talk about your view on “what happened” and you banter back and forth on who said what, or who did what. “Well you did this” or “You said this” “No I didn’t, you said this” or “this is what you said/did”. And you and your partner go back and forth, talking over each other, getting nowhere because you’re talking about what happened and you are blaming each other. There’s no listening, no accepting even a part of what they are saying, and most of all there is no understanding, caring, or empathy.
If we are going to have open, honest communication, which actually goes somewhere, we must make sure the emotions are taken care of. Couples do not find solutions or even compromise until they feel heard and understood by their partner. Believe it. It’s true!
John Gottman, who has done more research on couples than anyone else, speaks to a concept he calls “Attunement” when couples are engaging in meaningful, responsive conversations. Within the encounter between a couple is an “awareness of an experience with emotions, and an ability to respond to each other’s emotions. Not taking responsibility for another’s emotions, but genuinely trying to understand them.” In these types of conversations, couples soothe each other to reduce the threat in processing negativity for both partners.
When couples use Attunement in their communication there is:
- Awareness of the other’s emotion
- Turning toward the emotions
- Tolerance of the emotional experience
- Understanding the emotion
- Non-defensive listening to the emotion
- Empathy toward the emotion
The goal of healthy emotional communication is to completely understand our partners at the emotional level! We work at building trust so that each person has room to be who they are and feel how they feel.
When couples feel their emotions are understood and that they matter, the conversation can be more relaxed and they are open and cooperative. They can actually accomplish something; feel good about each other, and not feel frustrated and overwhelmed by their conversations.
”Emotions are the voice of the heart.”
Learn to speak from the heart, become a great listener. Listen for meaning and emotion in what is said by your partner.
How can you avoid the “Four Wastes of Time” in Communicating?