As a couple’s counselor, I do an extensive intake and assessment process when new clients are introduced. I need to find out the core issues that these couples are struggling with to cut through the noise and get to the heart of the matter to best facilitate their counseling sessions and make reasonable and attainable benchmarks and goals for therapy. One of the most-cited areas of concern for couples is communication.
A majority of couples have been in conflict for so long that by the time they get to me they are in such a painful and negative place that they cannot even talk about the most mundane and benign of subjects without yelling, over-talking, cutting each other off or arguing; which of course escalates every discussion into a fight and just about every fight into WWIII. When we begin to break it down, often these couples don’t even know why they’re yelling, fighting or shouting each other down.
Emotions run high when you’re constantly feeling that what you’re saying is being viewed as unimportant, or that your partner isn’t listening. You get into the mindset that you have to get louder in order to be heard. When you do that though, your partner is still not hearing your anger or frustration, nor are they hearing what you’re trying so hard to communicate to them. One person fires back and matches the level of emotion and volume, and here’s another shouting match on your hands.
We all have a very basic need to be heard, not only heard, but listened to and to have what we say have value to our partner. Couples that are struggling can do further damage to each other by discounting their partners words or feelings. When you cut each other off, shut each other out, give the silent treatment or the cold shoulder, you’re sending the message that you don’t care. On the receiving end, being shut out makes you want to yell all the more. As couples go back and forth in this negative cycle, one or both can be driven to the breaking point.
When you’re at your limit and being driven by anger, you may say things you may not mean and say mean things you shouldn’t say. You might make it personal insulting blaming bringing up the past and beating each other over the head with your mistakes. This is when interactions become ugly and unproductive. Nothing is being accomplished no resolution can be found. All that you are creating are more hurt and hopeless feelings. You’re getting more validation that this isn’t working; that your partner doesn’t have your best interest in mind, and they only care about being right and proving you wrong. This can lead to one partner giving up, getting quiet, pulling away and isolating. The shouting has only served to drive a deeper wedge into the cracks in the relationship. This is exactly what you don’t want.
If this sounds all too familiar, don’t despair. There is a way forward for you and your partner together. The great news is that you don’t have to stay in this negative cycle of endless fighting and conflict. It’s not easy to retrain yourself to act differently but if you’re both willing to put forth the effort and try, it can be corrected. You and your partner can break the cycle of conflict and move into a new way of being together that is kinder, more loving and far more conducive to great communication.
Reframing interactions is what I’m talking about. Tipping the scales towards the positive every chance you get so that eventually, the positives outweigh the negatives and you’re able to be back on solid footing together realizing that you do care for and value one another and want to hear and understand what the other person is trying to communicate. There’s a respect that grows out of these positive interactions that will help in cementing your emotional bond into one that is stronger and better than ever before.
I’m not saying you’re still not going to disagree, no not at all. Rather than raising your voice and going immediately to yelling, you will instead speak softly so that the other person has to try harder to listen vs shutting you out because of shouting (tuning you out because of nagging) the way you do kids that are clamoring. All parents know this. You stop hearing when it all becomes just noise. Keep this in mind. Approach your conversations, even disagreements, with a conversational tone of voice, lose the sarcasm and keep the shrillness out of your tone. Make your case calmly and rationally without blaming language.
When you have something to resolve together, choose a time when you and partner are both calm and feeling reasonable and rational not in the heat of the moment of disagreement. Very important: Give each other the respect you each want for yourself.
Start your conversations by taking the time to acknowledge that you both have valid points to share, that you’re on the same team and really want to work things out for you to get along and not fight; that you are all about moving forward and not backward. That you love and cherish each other above everyone else ,that you want to be each other’s best friend in the world and that you have too much at stake to let things go on as they have been. You both make the effort to speak softly, use kind non-blaming language
Give each other room to speak, to breathe, to explain and explore feelings. Show gratitude and say nice things to each other.
Begin and end with “I love you” No “buts”. THIS is the way to stop the shouting and have true and meaningful conversations and communication that moves you both forward together instead of tearing you apart.