Communication is one of the top reasons couples come into my practice. Yet when we drill down, communication evolves into unmet expectations, assumptions and a desire to be understood. A typical example used in couples therapy is the scenario of the unwashed dishes. Partner Z wants Partner Y to wash the dishes so they are left in the sink. Days go by and Partner Z becomes increasingly frustrated that the dishes have not been washed. During a session this is brought up and Partner Y agrees to wash the dishes. During the next session, Partner Z still appears frustrated. When asked about the frustration, Partner Z responds, “The dishes are washed but I wanted her to want to wash them.” It is clearly not about the dishes. Aside from the confusion that may exist, there is an underlying message that Partner Z wants Partner Y to have a similar view of when dishes need to be washed. Unfortunately, this was not communicated in the initial conversations.
The truth is, our realities are partially based upon our experiences and perceptions. Since experiences and perceptions differ, our realities can as well. This is true even when we are in a shared space and creating the reality together. In the relationship, it is important to hold space for the shared vision as well as the individual realities. The combination of those realities contribute to the shared vision. Conversation is key in these moments. You also want to attend to the content of the conversation. Share your inner world through expression of thoughts and feelings. It’s a myth that partners are supposed to “just know” what one another is thinking and feeling. It is perfectly okay to inquire into your partner’s internal state to develop a better understanding.
A few questions to consider when it feels like things are not flowing the way you intended:
• Do I want to be right or understood?
• Am I describing my partner’s behavior instead of how I feel?
• Am I listening to respond or to understand?
• What am I expecting?
• Am I communicating what I need?
A few questions to practice to gain a deeper understanding:
• What did you mean by _________?
This is a clarifying question. Instead of assuming what the partner meant, try inquiring. This question can be tricky so be mindful of tone.
• I heard you say___________
Try this instead of saying “you said.” This statement allows room for your partner to correct any inaccuracies and reduces blame.
• How I experienced it______________
This sets the tone for sharing your own experience and provides space for your partner’s experience to be different.
• What expectations are you holding in our relationship?
This question brings any unspoken and/or unmet expectations into a conversational space.
• How are you feeling?
Do not underestimate the power of a simple question. You do not have to guess the feeling. Ask the question.
I invite you to take time to develop your own practice of creating a shared vision. Be love!