Repairing Relationships-Part I
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist for twenty-five
years, I deal with the same eight conditions over and over. One of
the most common complaints I hear about is relationships.
(The other seven are mood problems, children's behaviors, ADHD
or learning disorders, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor assertiveness
Relationships start out with a bang and over time, often fizzle.
While this is normal, during the process, considerable resentment
builds. We generate "history," which has a good and a bad side.
The bad side is what ultimately knocks out relationships.
When relationships suffocate and/or ultimately die, there are clear
warning signs. Distance between the partners, increasing fights,
passive aggressive gestures or speech--all red flags. Normally,
if unaddressed, couples go their merry ways, then one day, BOOM.
Something happens. It may be small or big, and it may be the first
time or the fiftieth, but that "something" expresses; that is, releases,
the tensions built up over some period of time.
Tensions are normal and natural differences fuel disagreements.
How we deal with this, often on a daily basis, determines what happens
in the long term, ultimately, whether couples stay together.
The first and most major adjustment or skill that couples need to
acquire is effective communication. In my system, it is called
"Structured Communication." This is not new, but what is critical
are the two aspects or levels of communication that must be in place
for it to work. Working, in this case, means discharging ongoing
tensions, and doing so effectively, not waiting until one or the other
The first critical aspect is what I call "articulating the process."
This simply means using a feeling word in a sentence, assertively, out
loud, with an "I" statement, that expresses a feeling. In short, it
means describing, using feeling-word vocabulary, what normally is
communicated non-verbally. No longer is the unexpressed, unexpressed
non-verbally. We now make it verbal, overt and unmistakably clear.
How do we know it was clear?
The second aspect of Structured Communication is Validation.
This is also simple. The listener paraphrases or puts into his or her
own words the ideas and feelings of the speaker. The listener has to
feed back to the speaker both levels of communication-the content;
that is, what was actually the "issue" or topic and the process, or
underlying feeling. The speaker gets to "check" the listeners
paraphrasing, and the couple does not go past this juncture until the
speaker "OK's" the paraphrasing. Then, the speaker knows communication
actually "happened" because the listener accurately fed back all levels
of the speaker's communication. Both parties become "clear" about what
was said and fed back.
These two "extra" levels of communication have to be included in most
verbalizations between communicating pairs, or sooner or later something
will go off track. Most couples fail to include these two levels
consistently, which sets of a psychological time bomb. Instead of
articulating feelings, often the speaker "assumes" his or her feelings
are being communicated. They usually are, non-verbally, but that does
not mean they were accurately communicated nor accurately understood.
Then, most couples don't paraphrase, so what was not accurately
communicated or understood festers. Most couples, failing to use these
two techniques, just fire right back with whatever retort they have been
rehearsing while the speaker was not articulating. The rest is the stuff
of marriage and family sessions...
For a complete description of this and the other five techniques couples
need to know, see the resource box below or go to the author's website.