Updated: May 3, 2019
It's a story that I have heard before. In a previous session, a therapist has taught the couple to make "I" statements or some other communication technique.. Today, he now witnesses what the couple already knows; when the tension gets high, the technique has little effect in creating change in their arguing. In fact, the couple does not even consider using the technique, even though the therapist is in the room! I cant imagine that the technique will be remembered when the tension is high at home.
I work with many coupes that I would describe as "high-conflict" couples. I have found that their process of fighting is so much more important than any technique that they use. There are many things that I want the couple to do or stop doing. Like the therapist in this story, I want the environment of the couple's argument to be very different.
So, here is my advice for you if you are a high-conflict couple.
I know that it is easier said than done.
So what does the therapist want you to stop? Here is my wish list of behaviors that I would like my high-conflict couples to stop. And by the way, this is some of what we work on modifying during therapy sessions:
1. Stop creating defensiveness in your partner. What you say and how you say it matters. Sentences that begin with why and you, for example, change the temperature in the room. Keep the temperature low by not giving your partner opportunity to be defensive. Think for a moment about how you might go about accomplishing that. Really, take a moment now before reading on.
2. Stop discounting your partner's opinion of you. When he or she states that you are too critical, listen to it. Regardless of what you think, this is how your partner is experiencing you. It would serve you and your relationship well if you would pay attention to this opinion and try to understand it. Understanding the perspective, may lead to you changing something about you, and maybe changing something in the relationship.
3. Stop interrupting. This indicates that you are not listening. It also indicates that the discussion is going too fast. Slow down the conversation, intentionally listen to what’s being said, demonstrate to your partner that you understand what they are saying, and then, and only then, integrate your ideas about the topic.
So the process is:
>demonstrate understanding of (by stating this directly to your partner)
a. what is important to your partner,
b. what he or she thinks,
c. and what he or she feels
>integrate your ideas, only after demonstrating understanding of your partner's perspective as identified above.
4. Stop raising your voice. When you raise your voice, it indicates that you’re losing rationality. So when you are yelling at your partner to be rational, it is actually you that is irrational. Staying calm is critical to the intimacy needed in a difficult discussion.
5. Stop using that tone of voice. We communicate in three primary ways; verbal, nonverbal and tone of voice. Try substituting an angry tone, with a more direct statement of feelings, such as when you state things like that it hurts me. Careful, intentional use of tone is important.
Dr. Losey provides 3-hour intensive communication sessions for couples to help establish effective communication process. Communication processes are integrated throughout the session as the couple simultaneously works through difficult topics. This live encounter helps the couple be successful in-the-moment through coaching by Dr. Losey as the discussion is occurring in session. It's really a unique way of working through conflict with the therapist.