Tag Archives: couples therapy

What Did You Say?

6 Skills for More Effective Communication

Communication is one of the top concerns that brings our couples to our therapy offices. The good news is that with a few skills, you can make a positive impact in this key area of your relationship. Here are 6 of them to help:

Effective Communication

  1. Soften your start up.

How a conversation starts is inevitably how it’ll end. In fact, the first 3 minutes of a conversation are crucial. Be gentle and avoid criticizing or blaming. Strive to frame your complaints as requests if possible. For example, instead of, “You never touch me,” try “I loved it when you kissed me in the kitchen the other day. You’re a great kisser. Let’s do that more often.”

  1. Listen to understand.

You’re two different people and so it’s impossible to agree on everything. A goal of a conversation can be to understand your partner’s perspective without agreeing. To do this, ask open ended questions and be genuinely curious about why your partner believes and feels the way that they do. A common complaint of our clients is that they don’t feel heard. Truly honor and respect your partner’s reality, even when it differs from your own.

  1. Accept influence.

Accepting influence means sharing power and decision making. You take your partner’s feelings and viewpoints into consideration and this also means that you don’t just do what you want. You won’t just go out and buy a new car because you think, “I can do whatever I want. It’s MY money.” Instead you ask your partner their thoughts about such a purchase and you weigh their perspective into your decision. You do this in little and big ways, whether you’re discussing relocating, taking on a promotion, or not accepting an invitation until you’ve discussed it with your partner. Accepting influence conveys honor and respect for your partner.

  1. Become pros at de-escalation.

Sometimes a communication problem is really an emotional management problem. Learn to sooth yourself and each other, especially during a conflict discussion. You can practice deep breathing exercises, counting to 10 before responding (one of our clients says, “Can I have a pause?”), or taking a time out with a distraction. Experiment with what brings your heart rate down and makes you feel calm to prevent feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Make and accept repairs.

A repair attempt is any statement or action that prevents negativity from escalating out of control. Whether it’s silly or serious, the action lets your partner know that you want to deescalate the tension during a conflict discussion. They’re important because they decrease stress levels and help prevent feeling flooded. Some repairs include sticking out your tongue, asking for a kiss, saying “Can you rephrase that more gently?” or “Give me a moment.” Use them often and recognize when your partner is making a repair. They have to be accepted to work.

  1. Compromise.

The above 5 steps set the stage for effective compromise. You can’t reach a compromise without understanding each other’s perspective. Try to see the reasonable part of your partner’s request and where you can be flexible. Compromise won’t always feel perfect, but it’s a necessary part for a win-win feeling in your relationship.

These behaviors might take a lot of effort and intention. Changing a pattern won’t happen overnight, and the goal is not to avoid conflict altogether. But making small changes daily will help you and your partner communicate more effectively.



Apologizing to Your Partner: 6 Key Components

Adapted from Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson

Apologizing to your partner

We’ve all done it. We said something we shouldn’t have; we didn’t say something when we should have. We broke our partner’s trust or did something we knew would upset them. Luckily, these mistakes don’t have to mean the end of a relationship.

Here are six components of a meaningful apology:

  1. I hear your pain.

The injuring partner should allow space for their partner to speak openly about his/her pain. For the hurt partner, this is not about making a case against their partner, but focusing on their own pain in the situation and how it affects their sense of safety with their partner. The injuring partner stays emotionally present and non-defensive, listening to the pain their partner has experienced.

  1. I care about your pain.

The injuring partner is able to express care for their partner. Because they care about them, they do not like to see them in pain.

  1. Your pain is legitimate.

The injuring partner acknowledges that their partner’s feelings are valid. Even if it was not the injuring partner’s intention to hurt their partner, they recognize that they have and that that is what matters.

  1. Here is what I did to cause you pain.

The injuring partner takes responsibility for their part in causing their partner pain. They are able to name exactly what they did or said (or did not do or say) that led to the pain.

  1. I feel bad that I caused you pain.

The injuring partner feels remorse for the pain caused, even if it was not their intention.

  1. I am here with you and am going to try to be better.

The injuring partner reassures their partner that they are committed to them and that they are in this together. They express a sincere desire to do better so that they will not cause their partner pain in this way again.

Rinse and repeat. None of us are perfect partners, so apologizing is not a one-time event, but something we must return to again and again.

Sometimes this is hard to do without some help, and sometimes an apology is only the beginning of the healing process. If you’re feeling stuck, consider seeing a couples therapist to work through these issues.

Author: Amanda Hofbauer, MA, AMFT