Couples Who Are Incredible At Communicating Know How To Do This One Thing Well

Couple chatting while petting their dog

In healthy relationships, there's nothing more vital than good communication skills, and couples who can communicate effectively know how to do one thing: listen.

I just finished Adam Grant’s Ted Talk on The Power of Powerless Communication, where he cited two commanding points.

Grant said tentative language engages trust and brings people toward you instead of away. He also reminded us what Steven Covey said about how most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply.

Or, in my words, people listen to respond, not listen to listen. He also reminded us what the Buddha said, "If your mouth is open, you are not learning."

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Here's what couples who are great at communicating do well:

1. How to be a better listener? You just need to listen.

Not a day goes by during my work with couples that I don’t see people listening to respond and not listening to listen.

Many cannot contain their responses. They chomp at the bit while waiting to prove their point and defend their position. People want to be heard, but within that context, so does the person from whom they are receiving.

What happens when the person we try to connect with fails to acknowledge our words and feelings, particularly at a moment of painful vulnerability? Communication.

The couple believes communication is the issue because they connect through communication. Yet, effective communication is not in and of itself often the issue. The issue is whether they are heard, validated, felt, and acknowledged.

Years ago, in her benchmark book, You Just Don’t Understand, Men and Women in Conversation, Deborah Tannen, linguist and speech pattern student, concluded that for men, communication is a means to an end, that is, often to establish pecking order or to get to the bottom line.

Yet, for women, communication is an end in and of itself. Yet for both, more women than men perhaps, it is through this process that connection exists.

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2. Look for moments of connection

With Emotional Focused Therapy (EFT), we look at "moments," and connection happens in moments. Disconnection happens in moments of rupture. We may have many moments, many times but it is within a moment that we have a break and we can have a repair.

So, how do you improve your listening skills?

3. Meet them where they are

Think about this example I use repetitively with couples and parents.

Little Bobby comes home from the playground and cries to his mother, "Johnny threw sand in my face, and it got in my eyes, and all the kids saw it."

He is upset, sad, and feels helpless in the situation. What do most parents do? How do they respond?

Most parents instinctively want their children to experience no pain, so they attempt to nurture and soothe the child. They primarily say, "It’s going to be OK! Let’s get you cleaned up."

Now, that might sound uber nurturing to you, yet there is a missing step, a step so critical it provides regulation of emotions within the confines of this trauma. And that is, we have to be where our partner or child is.

The missing step within this example would be to bend down, get eye level, and say something like, "I’m sorry that happened" (if they look sad, you also need to look sad, or if they are older, say, "That sucks."

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3. Arouse mirror neurons

No excuses for the other child. No fixing it yet. Just a mirroring experience. This engages the arousal of our mirror neurons, which are critical for connection.

This step is so often excluded in all levels of communication.

To connect and join with each other, you have to be where they are at times, and they are so often into their story and their side they forget they are even in a relationship with another human.



4. Improve connection and improve resiliency.

Connection improves not only intimacy but also emotional regulation and resilience. This has been well established.

In her interpretation of several studies presented in her Ted Talk entitled How to Make Stress Your Friend, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal concludes not all stress is bad. Stress can be good for connection.

She concludes that the stress experience catapults us to reach out. Through this collaboration, we become emotionally regulated and, in the end, more resilient.

If you believe you and your partner have problems communicating, think again. Communication is a reflection of what's inside.

So, seeking help from a qualified couples therapist can help identify the issues and help resolve the challenges in your relationship.

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Dr. Barbara Winter, Ph.D., holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and is dedicated to helping people achieve personal growth and improve their “emotional and spiritual health”, increase their capacity to engage in effective interpersonal relationships and procure the tools necessary to live their best life.

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