Couples often struggle with communication. That sounds so cliché. Communication is everything has been repeated, over and over, usually flippantly. As a result, it has lost its meaning. Let’s break down what this truism actually means.
What kind of therapist would I be if I didn’t become vulnerable with you? I model transparency for my clients and often use personal stories as an example to make a point. In this case, I’m making the case for improving your response flexibility in communication with your partner.
During the first few years of our relationship, Melissa and I were still developing trust. It’s a negotiation and if not navigated properly will destroy a relationship. We’d want to know who the other was talking to on social media. We’d ask each other about prior sexual relationships. We were curious about each other’s co-workers of the opposite sex.
The mind has a tendency to play tricks on us. Initially, we’d imagine each other cheating, which by the way includes emotional affairs, and send panicky text messages, “Where are you? Who are you with?”
Sometimes we’d accuse each other of doing things that were purely figments of our own deluded imagination. This would often turn into arguments, of the most disturbing variety. Yes, we’ve struggled and overcome.
Melissa and I have been to couples counseling three times over the last 14 years. Each experience was valuable and helped us grow as a couple. I remember one time all that had to happen was the female therapist looking me dead in the eye and sternly saying, “We don’t have friends of the opposite sex in marriage.”
I immediately sent a message to the young lady I was interacting with on messenger and told her we wouldn’t be talking anymore.
Back to trust and response flexibility. What do you do when you think your partner may be cheating? How do you respond to that feeling of worry, anxiety, or dread? Melissa and I used to track each other’s location, send anxious text messages like those referenced above, and accuse each other of doing things that had never been done.
In one counseling episode, we learned to navigate the trust issue differently. We learned to set the table, express our feelings, and respond empathetically. That’s a formula by the way:
- Set the table
- Express your feelings
- Respond empathetically
By setting the table we’re preparing our partner for the conversation. We set good intentions and commit to having a peaceful talk. It sounds something like, “Melissa, there’s something I want to talk to you about. I’m not going to throw fireballs at you. I want to have a peaceful conversation. I’ve had something on my mind that I need to share with you. Can we talk whenever you have some time?”
She’s ready for what’s about to happen. I’ve prepared her and given her the power to decide when we talk. Usually, she wants to go ahead and get it over with.
“Sure, let’s talk now what is it?”
“I don’t know what happened, but I’ve been afraid and anxious today because I’ve thought about you cheating.”
“What have I done to make you feel that way?” She asks with compassion as she puts her arm around me.
There you have it. It’s that simple. This communication formula for developing or re-developing trust is vital. It takes practice and you’re not expected to master it, right away. Melissa and I learned to have this conversation years ago and it’s completely transformed our relationship. We’re so much stronger in the area of trust and commitment, now.
Feel free to reach out and schedule a couples counseling session if this post resonates with you.