Are you and your partner able to communicate clearly? What helps couples keep strong connection?
A wise friend married fifty plus years says, “we both did not fall out of love at the same time.” To me this means at least one spouse always sees and hears with eyes and ears of love.
What happens when both spouses stop listening with love? Misunderstandings grow even deeper as spouses and partners do not clearly communicate what they mean.
Mediation, particularly family law mediation, offers an opportunity to witness the complexities of humanity. Here are three tips from a family mediator for communicating as couples:
- Know whether you spill feelings or facts.
Have you heard the phrase, “you spill whatever is inside?” Realistically, the “whatever” inside that gets spilled oftentimes gets spilled at home or with the people closest. It tends to be more of a dumping than a spilling of the cup. When a spouse or partner expresses anger or hurt, it almost never involves saying, “I feel really sad” or “I am disappointed.” Instead, the body full anger or hurt, shouts, “You are never here” or “You are such a ____.” (Notice the harsh statements start with “you,” rather than “I,” which tends to automatically put the other person on the defensive). Remember, a fact is neutral. The truth may be that a spouse was away from home three nights in a row, which may feel lonely.
- Be mindful of the meaning you give.
When someone yells or shouts to express a strong feeling, it is easy to make it mean something very negative. The person’s behavior, while being directed toward one person or group of people, often has little to do with anyone else. When a person holds anger and hurt, words along those lines may spill out from the mouth. Many possible thoughts may result from what one person says. What thought are you choosing? Question those thoughts to see if that truly reflects what the person meant. It may not seem comfortable asking if the person meant something negative about you, yet it often clears the air. Approaching a conversation with clarity and compassion with the words, “I wonder…” may bring a sense of calm. Remember, a cup full of compassion and love spills the same.
- Consider underlying needs.
As the heat rises from whatever is being spilled (or dumped), people may grow enmeshed in the sadness and anger. Looking a little closer, anger and hurt reflects a call for support in meeting an underlying need. A spouse upset at the other for being away often needs connection, support, or understanding. (Yes, it might be easier to say, “I miss spending time with just the two of us, could we stay home this Friday cooking dinner together and play a game?”) The spouse who was a way may be working to meet a need for financial security or playing golf to meet a need for joy. Talking about each other’s needs in a way that says we both have needs to meet and want to find a way to best meet both needs may deepen the relationship.
During divorce mediation, people often want argue about how to meet needs rather than discuss the underlying need. Talking about the underlying needs allows couples to more easily generate ideas for how to meet needs in a way to satisfy everyone involved. Learn more in a Communicating for Couples class.