Over the years, I have helped hundreds of couples work through their issues. And even after all this time, the complaint I get the most when I pick up the phone is, “We struggle with communication.”
I can honestly tell you that at least eight of my ten daily calls start off with the above statement. But most couples don’t understand that while communication is important, there’s often a deeper issue than simply conversing. Couples sit, trapped in a loop of self-defensiveness and reactionary responses. They’re unable to slow down and build awareness around what’s really happening between them.
Therefore, what couples see as failed communication is often the past being triggered, the act of not listening or not being heard, or a lack of validation.
Nothing Knocks Us Down Quite Like Our Past
We react strongly to things we’ve felt before. That’s why a common turn of phrase is that the 10% we see above the surface is just the tip of the iceberg. And 90% of the issue goes down much deeper, below where the eye can see.
That’s why as you struggle in your relationship, what’s often showing up is something you haven’t dealt with in your past.
Chances are that your partner is not only upsetting you in the present moment, but those feelings are like strings attached to past memories in which you felt the same way. I know this concept might be hard to understand at first, but it’s important to know that everyone who gets close to you will step on your past wounds.
For example, if your partner has been ignoring you more lately, and you’re having intense emotional struggles over it, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ve felt this feeling of being unseen and unheard before.
When I work with couples around past wounds coming up in the present, I help them work through the “big picture” and the reasons why one person is upset.
We thus build empathy and a deeper understanding of one another.
Oftentimes when we are feeling unseen or unheard, it can be because, well… we literally aren’t being heard. This next issue that’s linked to the statement, “We struggle with communication,” is a big one… I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but a lot of times, we think we are listening, but we aren’t.
Most of the time, one person is speaking and the other person is simply planning how they’ll respond. They’re not really listening. Now, the solution to this issue is quite simple. I just tell my couples to repeat what they heard. You can tell a lot by just having your partner pause and repeat you… There’s a chance they are blocked and not even hearing you.
Slow… it… down… and repeat what you’re hearing.
Hear your partner out fully… And by sharing what you heard, they’ll feel heard and open up the space for you to be heard as well.
Sometimes, the solution is just an understanding that you both have different perspectives. You agree to disagree, instead of trying to prove your point. That’s true empathy… Try and jump to their side of the fence and hear them out.
When we give people the space to be heard and actually listen to them, we are able to validate their feelings. But if we don’t hold that space for them, they’ll likely find their feelings are unheard. That’s why validation is the third most common struggle linked to the “communication” statement.
Most couples don’t fully understand validation.
When you validate someone’s feelings, it does not mean that you agree with them, rather that you understand they have those feelings and it makes sense that they do.
For example, if your partner says, “My feelings were hurt when you made that comment about my mother,” you don’t have to agree whether the statement was “good” or “bad.” Maybe you made a truthful comment, but validating your partner’s feelings means you don’t hold it against them for being hurt by it.
Once you slow down and remember that it’s not above proving anything or being on a battlefield, you can take your relationship to a new level of connectedness, compassion, and understanding. But to get to that place, you have to be willing to put your sword and armor down and just listen and validate…even if you feel you’re right.
You do this in hopes they will do the same for you.
Once this happens in a relationship – two people put their armor down to listen and validate – the couple will start to connect in a healthy way. A new level of trust is then created because judgment has been removed and feelings have been validated. This trust only continues to foster a deeper communication.
As always, I hope you enjoyed reading about “communication struggles” in relationships. Let me know if any of these tips or thoughts resonate with you in any way. I love hearing from you!
Jessica Baum is a licensed and experienced relationship therapist in Palm Beach County, specializing in codependency and love addiction. To learn more about love addiction or to book an appointment, please feel free to call her at 1-800-274-8106.