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wundayatta's avatar

How can a couple get communication going?

Asked by wundayatta (58591points) March 30th, 2009

I’m seeing a ton of questions on fluther that indicate difficulty in communication between the two partners. I know from studies and my own experience that most troubles boil down to communicatio. In my case, therapy helped. I always viewed therapy as a sign that I had failed, but it did help, if only because it provided a safe place for us to be honest.

I know I was afraid to be honest. I was not getting sex or closeness, or even affection from the relationship. We were more like a corporation than a marriage. I thought if I asked for what I wanted, I’d be divorced.

If communication is the problem in most cases, and if people in the couple are afraid to talk because they are afraid of how the person will respond—either defensively, or with a “get lost,” and if therapy is not an option because one member won’t go, or the couple can’t afford it; what can they do? How can they learn to communicate with each other? How can they say the honest things they are afraid to say? Any ideas?

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21 Answers

nebule's avatar

writing letters…always a winner…
or email of course… but letters are better,,,
there’s something so much more personal about the handwritten word
particularly from a man
that just screams….I care

cwilbur's avatar

It’s difficult to take a relationship that has worked itself into a pattern of not communicating and fix it. It’s a lot easier to build the communication as the relationship grows. But I think that even if it’s broken, you can start small, practicing with little things that aren’t so sensitive. When you know that your preferences will be respected and worked with when you’re talking about menu planning, it’s a lot easier to feel safe when you’re talking about emotional needs and sexual desire.

And @lynneblundell—my ex, a man, would write me letters, and my reaction was not, “oh, he cares!” but “he’s writing four pages of stuff about how much he loves me so that he can avoid looking me in the eye.” It’s one thing if you say what you need to say in the letter, but he was using the letter to steer any communication away from his sensitive areas and to avoid actually engaging on any of the problems we were having.

YARNLADY's avatar

First I want to say that if one half of a couple does not want to go the counseling, that is not a deal breaker. The remaining one can still go, get tips and ideas, and have rewarding results. It might be better is we used the word advisor. Would you see an insurance advisor, a college course advisor, a financial advisor without any negative connotations?

Set aside a specific time that is mutually agreeable to both. Get rid of outside distractions, turn off the TV, unplug the phone. Set the lighting to a relaxing level, and maybe put on some soft relaxing music. Be sure you are both well rested and free of any alcohol or other substances than can interfere with lucid communication.

Practice what you want to say ahead of time. Try writing it down for your self, take notes. Use a recorder or other device to listen to yourself.

Bring these things to the session: goals, patience, self-reflection, listening skills, observation skills, time, well chosen words, courage, flexibility, and, of course, love.

During the session, with the aid of all your senses, pay close attention to what you have heard and observed. Ask questions, then determine if your communication goal has been met and whether your communication has been received in a manner that facilitates continuing dialog.

In a relationship, it is not easy to have a meaningful conversation during the give and take of the everyday tasks. You can accomplish a lot by a private, just the two of you, communication ‘date’.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Yarnlady I think that is fantastic advice. All of it.

miasmom's avatar

When my hubby and I went through pre-marital counseling we learned a technique of communicating called “withholds”. Each person had to think of 3 things about the other person, 2 good and 1 bad that had happened within the last 48 hours…they had to be recent. When the person is sharing their withholds, the other person can only listen and respond with “thank you”. After both of you are done, then you can discuss things. So, the person says, “I liked it when….” and the other person responds, “thank you”. And then, “I didn’t like it when…” and the other person responds “thank you”, and then one more positive, “I liked it when…”, and a final “thank you”.

If you do this consistently, then you’ll keep up with communication and we really liked how there are 2 positives and 1 negative and you end on a positive. The couple could decide to share and agree they weren’t going to talk about it until the next day, if they thought they might need time to mull things over.

We do this every now and then and it’s always eye opening to me to hear what hubby likes and dislikes.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@miasmom When I was learning how to teach and set up a curriculum they taught this method as well. They called it the sandwich method. One compliment, one negative, another compliment. They said that is how you should always respond to your students. It works. It’s not an easy thing to learn though at some times.

miasmom's avatar

@RedPowerLady I like that term, the sandwich method. It certainly can apply to alot of different areas, not just marriage.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@miasmom I think it would be a fantastic skill for people to use in their everday lives, including their marriage, when we want to make a negative comment.

Garebo's avatar

Counseling is a bunch of expensive crap. Usually the man, I hate to say it, has no clue to a womens signals and emotions-provided we are dealing with a level headed female. And by no means, am I perfect.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Garebo I’m educated and have experience working in and using the Counseling field. Certainly is not a load of crap. Stupidly expensive, yes. Crap, no. Now there are cultural healing methods I would prefer over counseling (none I can think of for this situation though) but counseling does work.

Edit to add: counseling can work versus does work

YARNLADY's avatar

@Garebo I’m sorry to read that you had a bad experience. On the three occasions that I have used counseling, insurance paid for it, and I found it to be extremely beneficial.

Garebo's avatar

@Yarneiedy: I am not surprised you leaped to that conclusion. Hey, I get emotional about it because I know people that have had very little success. We have never had too-can’t sy we didn’t think about it at one time. I have learned alot in the last three years about her, myself and my marriage, and in way you could say it was counseling. It is better now than it was 20 years ago.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Garebo that is a very strong statement for someone who has never even tried it, and based on what other people say.

wundayatta's avatar

@Garebo: so, how did you do it? That’s what this question is all about.

Garebo's avatar

I learned everything I could about what I was doing that was anti-seductive, or anti-romantic in our relationship. Once I realized the very many little annoying things I determined I was doing, it all started to make sense, and things dramatically improved. Also, being yourself and not a kiss ass, I think was and is important.

DragonFace's avatar

Communication is the key in any relationship. Just be honest and do not be afraid to talk. If you cannot learn to do it for yourself then the problem is always going to be there. I had a problem in the past with a woman who just lied about every little thing and I knew it every time she did. It just made me very upset that she was lying for little stupid crap. Each person needs to communicate their feelings honestly or its will just fail sooner or later. In my case I was the only one trying to get her to talk to me. She didnt so it was over. If therapy helped then learn how it was done and do it yourself. Not every relationship is not perfect but that doesnt mean you should be unhappy. The woman of my life now is great. She communicates very well, is very honest and sometimes can hurt my feelings a little but we have been together for 2 years now and I am the happiest man alive. :-D

wundayatta's avatar

@DragonFace: Do you believe that communication can not be learned in most relationships where it is bad, or just in your particular kind of relationship?

ronski's avatar

never say, “you make me feel like this,” always say, “i feel like this when this happens”. i think blame is a big problem in relationship communicating. it’s difficult to say things in a way that doesn’t hurt the other person. be thoughtful. think before you speak, especially if it is important. also, be clear from the beginning that you want to be open about everything, and if you can’t be, perhaps it is not the right person. and try not to get too defensive, because it is really discouraging to bring up things if the other person gets really bitchy.

hearkat's avatar

I have found that a big issue with communication is that sometimes people aren’t being honest with themselves to begin with. That will carry over into all their interactions and communications. So it is best if both parties are being genuine and not playing roles dictated by their familial or societal expectations, and such.

@Garebo: As a person who has been in therapy a few times, I have learned that therapy, like life, is what you make it. People that don’t benefit from it aren’t really giving it their best effort. But by the same token, if a person is truly motivated to improve their situation, then counseling may not be necessary. However, many people do benefit from having a safe and neutral place to discuss their issues with an objective, knowledgeable professional to offer guidance.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

I suggest starting in the bedroom.

Agree to say what you really want to say, give the blatent truth about what you see and feel.

Searing hot.

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