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Self-Improvement Column: Communication tips for couples

Columnist Jeff Hartwig is a licensed clinical therapist and founder of 1 Focus Counseling in Canyon Lake. Photo provided by Jeff Hartwig.

By Jeff Hartwig MA, PPS, LPCC  
Self-Improvement Columnist, Canyon Lake Insider 

The beginning of a relationship originates with various forms of communication (both verbal and non-verbal). Likewise, the death of a relationship can be attributed to a lack thereof.

When I work with couples in my private practice, we first strive to identify individual styles of interacting. It is not surprising that we generally can find clues that point to specific styles originating from childhood as an indicator for the future.

The formative years of kindergarten through fifth grade are often revisited to identify current strengths and challenges in present circumstances. The adage “the apple doesn’t fall from the tree” can actually be useful moving forward in a
relationship.

As we recall experiences over the span of those formative years in youth, we identify our communication types in adulthood. I’ve had fathers state, “I grew up with a dad who was loud and yelled a lot. I don’t want my spouse and/or kids to go through those same experiences and want to change.”

Many of us want to do better, but when the pressure is on, such as job deadlines, financial stress, marital conflict, etc., one can default back to outbursts and then more apologizing. 

The apologizing after the fact will at some point become meaningless and resentment ensues, perpetuating an unhealthy cycle. Yell, take space, silence, and a slow comeback to communication resumes until yelling starts again and this unfortunate cycle continues.

It is helpful to understand that there are generally three ways people tend to communicate. The following are the three styles of communication that are usually present within a household:

  • Passive: tends to avoid conflict and neglects to state their needs.
  • Aggressive: angry responses such as yelling and not listening to others’ needs.
  • Assertive: listens to others’ needs, but can also communicate their own needs (best style).

Tips for better communication:

  • Identify triggers: We first determine for ourselves what sets us off, also known as triggers. We can suppress yelling about things that trigger us, but eventually, this becomes too much to hold back, and one small thing can escalate us into the default of yelling. Find your trigger(s).
  • Examine your routine: Become intentional about making changes. Consider starting by taking a closer look at your routine. Is your job high stress? Do you have residual feelings when getting off work? I suggest implementing a conscious and specific mindset such as, “Pulling into my driveway and stopping the motor will signal my ‘full-stop’. I can then regroup and think of patience and responding.”
  • Listen and affirm feelings: Understand that when one person is emotional and the other person is logical, communication goes askew. If one party is emotional, affirm their feelings and then the issue. Then, the behavior can be better addressed.
  • Communicate positives on a regular basis: Set out to positively affirm, encourage, or praise your partner daily. When the time comes that you need to communicate a relational challenge, it will be much easier received because you’ve built on the positive.

When couples struggle, communication is usually at the heart of the problem. With insight and intentional growth, even the efforts of just one person can improve a relationship or marriage.

Jeff Hartwig is a licensed clinical therapist and founder of 1 Focus Counseling in Canyon Lake. The information in this article is for informational purposes and not clinical advice, nor should it be taken or applied as a replacement for clinical advice. If you or someone you know is in crisis or in danger of harming self or others, call 911.

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