When couples get stuck in unhelpful patterns of communication, often it’s not so much ‘what’ is being discussed but ‘how’ it is being discussed. If one partner has something on their mind that they want to share with the other, delivery is really important.
For the person sharing a concern about something:
Prep your partner, is now a good time? Give them a small snapshot of what you want to discuss. Eg. It’s about work, it’s about the kids, it’s about how much time we spend together, it’s about money.. etc.
Make sure you are both ready, sitting down and available. Kids / housemates are out of ear shot and phones / devices are away or off.
Before you share your concern, let your partner know what you would like from them.
Would you like them to listen and reassure you?
Would you like advice?
Would you like them to just hear you rant and agree with you?
Would you like to come up with some solutions together?
Providing some information about what response you are seeking, will set you up for receiving what you want.
Read this blog if you would like some more ideas on how to have productive communication.
For the person listening:
See if you can just listen to your partner without talking it personally. Even if they are making a complaint about the relationship, can you do your very best to stay undefended and really hear them?
Often, the person sharing might just want to be understood. There is nothing you really need to do here apart from provide them your full attention.
A dynamic that I see a lot in my counselling room is where one person wants to be listened to and validated, and the other person jumps into ‘fixing’ and solutions.
People who are more logic minded often hear a partner sharing a concern, and because they love their partner, want to find a way to fix the issue as soon as possible.
But for people who are more emotionally focused, this feels like their partner is not really listening.
Due to the ways young children are socialised, once they’ve reached adulthood, women can often want to talk to be validated and heard, and men are often thinking of how to fix things. However I’ve seen this dynamic switched in man / woman couples, and I’ve seen it plenty of times in same sex couples.
If this resonates with you, have a watch of this funny skit that really highlights the different ways of communicating:
If you’d like some ideas on how to listen to validate, the below video is a coaching video that shows ‘listening to fix’ then ‘listening to validate’ so you can get a feel for the difference.
These skills can also be learnt with a therapist that specialises in couple work.