As a marriage counselor and couples therapist, whether at my office in Denver or with online marriage counseling clients I see all over the world through online video, I often meet with couples who love each other but who want to make their relationship better. They want to release frustration and resentment. They want better communication. They want things to feel easier, and happier between them. They want to enjoy each other again.
Sometimes, the couples we see for marriage counseling here at Growing Self are surprised to learn that the two “magic ingredients” that can help them create the joyful, effortless partnership they crave are already right under their nose. In fact, there are really just two simple strategies that anyone can do, anytime, to change their relationship for the better. While these things seem small and simple, in practice they can mean the difference between a thriving, happy relationship, or a marriage that ends tragically.
Because I so passionately believe that YOU deserve to be happy and fulfilled in your relationship, I’m sharing the “two big secrets” with you, in hopes that it helps you make positive changes to your relationship — today.
Few things are as frustrating, or as hurtful as trying to engage a disengaged partner. It’s hard NOT to get upset and angry when you’re feeling rejected, unloved, or uncared for. The problem is that many people who clam up as a defensive strategy when things get tense don’t understand how destructive their behaviors can be to your relationship.
But there is help, and there is hope. Because these types of communication problems are so common, I thought it might be helpful to you if I put together a “Communication Problems” podcast-mini series.
“Communication Issues” are the single most common presenting issue that brings couples to marriage counseling. The first thing to know about communication problems: Absolutely ALL couples struggle to communicate with each other from time to time. Just because it’s happening in your relationship does not spell doom. Truthfully, by making a few positive changes in the way you interact with each other, you can avoid many communication problems — and start enjoying each other again.
In episode 1, “Communication Problems and How To Fix Them” we discussed the most important and empowering things you can remain mindful of if you want to improve the communication in your relationship: Systems theory, and your own empowerment to affect positive change.
Specifically in episode 2, we looked at this communication pattern from the perspective of the “withdrawer” (i.e. the person in the relationship who might be perceiving their “pursuing partner” as angry or even hostile. In that episode I gave you some tips to help get back into the ring with your partner, some insight into why they may be so angry, and things that you can do to help soothe their anger and bring the peace back into your home.
If you’ve been feeling frustrated or angry because your partner refuses to talk to you, this one is for you. In this episode I’m talking about what may be leading your partner to seem emotionally withdrawn, as well as things that you can do to help your partner come closer to you emotionally, and start opening up again.
Communication strategies to help make it easier for your partner to open up to you
The paradoxical trick to making your partner feel more interested in coming towards you
I sincerely hope that this series helps you understand what may be happening at the root of your communication problems, as well as some real-world tips for things that can help you improve your relationship.
P.S. The Love, Happiness and Success Podcast — like everything else I do here at Growing Self, is all about YOU: What you need, and what will help you improve your situation. If you have a question related to communication, relationships, or anything else, please get in touch. You can leave your comment below, or you can even record a voice message (button is top-right if you’re on your laptop) I can respond to you in an upcoming episode of the podcast. Let me know what’s on your mind! — LMB
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Communication Problems and How To Fix Them, Part 3: When Your Partner Refuses to Talk
by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success
Nature built you to attach deeply to another person. When your relationship or marriage is in distress, it affects everything. It’s hard to focus, it’s hard to sleep, and life feels more difficult. When you get upset, it’s harder to calm down. Things feel more overwhelming, and scarier when your secure attachment is disrupted.
That’s not just true for you — it’s true for everyone. Research has shown that, just like babies and small children, adults have very real needs for secure attachment to their “irreplaceable other.” When those attachment bonds are threatened, adults are impacted physically: Blood pressure goes up, respiration patterns change, sleep is disrupted, and you don’t function as well mentally and physically.
This isn’t just true if you’re fighting. It’s true anytime you’re feeling disconnected… Shut out… Or unloved.
The presence of secure connection is soothing. It strengthens us. It also makes us feel more able to cope with challenges and stressful situations.
She showed how people perceive the world emotionally and physically as a safer, more manageable place when they feel securely attached to their number one person. Most importantly, she demonstrated the healing power of attachment-focused marriage counseling.
One Simple Ingredient… Big Changes In Your Marriage
I’ve been a marriage counselor in Denver for over a decade now. As such, I’m often asked, “What’s the key to a good relationship?” Like everything, there are always multiple pieces of the puzzle that need to fall into place including communication, having fun, intimacy, shared dreams, shared responsibilities, and so much more. However, all of the above are things that can be taught in marriage counseling. A good couples counselor can help you learn how to communicate, schedule time together, or create agreement about household duties. You can learn how to get on the same page, sharing a vision for your life, and how to parent together. And the truth is, all those things are relatively easy to achieve if one key ingredient exists: Empathy.
Empathy is the secret sauce, the key ingredient to a genuinely happy marriage. When couples have empathy for each other, they understand why all the other stuff is important and they feel motivated to do the things that will help their relationship feel better for both of them.
The best marriage counselor in the world can’t help you if you don’t have empathy for each other. If you don’t understand (or care) how your partner feels, or what they need from you, it is going to be difficult to repair your relationship.
So what is empathy? How does empathy save your marriage?
Empathy means that you can understand your partner’s feelings. You can get outside of yourself for long enough to understand their emotional truth (as opposed to just your own) and view the situation from their perspective. If you have empathy you can easily understand where conflict is coming from: Why it’s so important to them that you put the seat down, that you show up on time, that you don’t nag, you don’t scream, or that you contribute around the house. Empathy allows you to behave in a way that shows your partner you get them… and that you care.
The good news is that you can both learn how to use empathy to improve your relationship. Even if understanding “feelings” doesn’t come easily to you, through emotional intelligence coaching, psychoeducation, and personal growth work you can learn how to understand feelings — both your partners, and your own.
When you can truly understand your partner’s experience of your relationship a big shift happens. You get your power back. When you have empathy, the problems in your relationship stop being about what your partner is doing or not doing to you, and turns into an honest look at yourself. When you can say, “What is it like to live with ME?” and view that from your partner’s perspective all of a sudden you get huge opportunity for personal growth and a vastly improved relationship.
Developing compassion and empathy for your partner’s feelings can help you take a fresh look at what you are bringing to the table in your marriage. When empathy for your partner gives you insight into what they need, opportunities for improving your relationship unfold. By focusing on how your partner feels, and being responsive to their feelings, you will improve your relationship.
And, of course, at the end of the day you are the only person you can ever really change anyway. The beautiful paradox is that by your practicing empathy, you partner will begin to feel cared for and valued, and will likely be more empathic and responsive to you.
What do you think of this idea? Something you’re willing to try? Let me know ONE way you could show more empathy for your husband / wife / partner in the comments section!