By: James E. DelGenio, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Be a good listener and improve your relationships.
Many marital problems are rooted in poor communication. Effective communication between partners can be learned and developed.
When communication is poor and feelings go unsaid or unaddressed, the couple feels disconnected, even resentful. Over time, this leaves them feeling distant. Resentment creates further distance which in turn creates a lack of civility and respect and ultimately, a lack of intimacy.
Good communication is often oversimplified as just being romantic. It is not. Good communication involves the sharing of ideas and feelings. Good communication is made possible by means of trust, confidence, and mutual understanding.
Try to convey to your spouse the importance of expressing their feelings, even though they may think it’s silly. Explain how important it is to you and how it makes you feel. Explain to them how never knowing how they feel about this or that, confuses you and makes it more difficult for you to feel connected.
I encourage both men and women to use “I feel” statements. This allows the couple to say things that have in the past created conflict when sentences are started with: “You always” or “You never”. Never say never or always. This is also known as a history lesson into the past and therefore a minor conflict is never resolved and may even be magnified.
Stick to the topic
If you want to resolve an issue, stick to the topic at hand. That means no skidding. For example, “You don’t pick up after yourself”; “well you leave the bathroom a mess”. This is skidding. An issue is unlikely to be resolved when this occurs.
In order to show you are listening you need to reflect back to your spouse the content of what you heard. In other words, mirror what was said with emphasis on the feeling being projected. This shows the other that you are listening and also helps clarify the issue. Respond with empathy and don’t be defensive. Active listening also helps prevent bickering over nonsense that really isn’t relevant to a couples disconnect. The most obvious example of that was over 40 years ago. The couple I was seeing had a major argument over where they squeeze the toothpaste tube. She squeezed it on the end; he squeezed it in the middle. Obviously, their disconnect was not about the tooth paste. Sometimes all one wants is to be heard. Men often make the mistake of trying to solve the problem when all the wife wants is for him to listen. In this case, the wife needs to say it clearly, “I just need you to listen; please don’t try to solve the problem.” This will take practice but it will be worth it because your spouse will feel more connected to you.
Now I can work via zoom with anyone, anywhere in the country and it may still be covered by BCBS Insurance. Check with your BCBS carrier for details. Call James E. DelGenio MS, LCPC, Senior Staff Therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, 847-733-4300 Ext 638.
Disclaimer: This material is meant to be used in conjunction with psychiatric treatment, medication, if necessary, and supportive therapy. Always share this material and your questions about this material with your doctor and therapist.