I think I've worked with only one couple ever in my career as a couples' therapist who didn't say this to me.
No. I can't think of who it would have been.
Okay- I have never worked with a couple who didn't say they needed "help with communication."
With that said, that can mean dozens of different things.
Are you a bad listener? Is your partner?
Do you spend the whole time she is talking formulating what you'll say as soon as she shuts up?
Are you unwilling to open up or share what you are thinking or feeling?
Do you change topic of get off track?
Are you giving advice when it hasn't been requested?
Do you get defensive, rather than trying to understand exactly what your partner is experiencing?
There are loads of ways to be bad at communication.
I have 5 tools to help you get awesome at communication.
Ask if your partner is down to try communicating this way:
1) Agree to it
Both parties have to be willing to exchange information. If one is not, figure out a time (ie: in an hour, after the kids go to bed, when I get done with what I'm doing, etc) when both of you will earnestly have your heads in the game and follow through on the rest of these strategies. Good communication isn't half-assed. Both of you have to agree to it.
Taking turns providing information and accepting information is incredibly helpful in effectively communicating. Going through complete cycles where one person is expressing and the other is taking everything in makes both people certain that they've gotten across what they intended and that the other person gets it. And that they've heard what their partner is really saying, as opposed to what a defensive, hurt self is expecting him or her to be throwing.
Decide who will first send information and who will openly receive it.
Don't worry- you will get to trade parts before you are done.
This part seems tedious, but it is useful for so many reasons. I won't go into all of them here, but suffice it to say that doing this step thoroughly helps the person who is talking understand themselves better. By active listening, you are helping him or her understand their experience more deeply.
For the person who is sending information, tell what you'd like to get across in short enough statements that your partner can repeat it back.Mirror back to your partner each thing he or she has to say about this topic.
This part is simple, but don't let that keep you from taking it seriously.
Once everything has been said that the person talking wants to get across, listening partner summarizes it.
Listening partner then, to validate, simply let your partner know that what you've heard and repeated back makes sense.
"That makes sense to me."
But only if it does.
This does NOT mean you agree with what was said or that your recollection or feelings about it are the same. It means that what you heard and repeated about your partner's experience makes sense to you. 11 times out of 10, your partner had a totally different experience than you, so the point here is not to correct them about how YOU saw it. It is to understand how they saw it. And let them know their perspective makes sense.
This is my favorite part. Maybe cus I'm a shrink so I get excited to talk about feelings. But, I think it is really because this is where you get to be creative. No longer is the listener just taking in information. Now the listening partner gets to use critical thinking, empathy, and your own experiences to imagine what your talking partner must be feeling with regards to what her or she has said.
This goes something like, "I imagine when that happens you must be feeling _____. Is that how you are feeling?"
This continues until you can't think of any other emotions associated with what you understood, at which point you say, "Are there other feelings I missed?" The goal is to understand what your partner's experience was.
If you guess a feeling your partner doesn't relate to, don't hesitate to skip back up a couple of steps so that you are both on the same page about what your partner is feeling.
If you've never tried this level of interacting before, it can seem overwhelming. Therapists spend lots of dollars and hours to learn to help couples with these skills, on much deeper levels.
It can't hurt to ask for some help from a therapist. Even if you'd just like some coaching with this script as you talk through it.
It is okay (and encouraged) to go to therapy before the "D" word comes up.
Thoughts? Comments? Concerns? Suggestions?