Do you and your spouse have disagreements? Does it feel that your partner just doesn’t hear you? Have you ever found yourself escalating a conversation just to get a reaction from your spouse? If you are like most of us, you can answer yes to at least one of these questions. Good communication is a key element of any relationship. Most of the couples who come to see me have improving their communication as one of their goals. I completely agree that we need to work on communication as a foundation tool. However, as Dr. Sue Johnson, relationship researcher and therapist, says, when we address communication, we have just worked our way down to the waterline of the iceberg.
So, what’s below the surface of the iceberg? Beneath the waterline, lies emotional connection. In order to communicate well, we must feel emotionally safe with our partner. When we feel disconnected from our spouse, we often resort to criticism, anger and demands. We do this in an attempt to get our partner to engage emotionally with us again and help us feel safe again. This is where, on the surface, it appears that our communication is off. However, if we don’t address the “below the surface” issues, our communication patterns are going to continue to come creeping back.
How do you address the deeper issues? The first step is recognizing what your emotional needs are. Even though some of us are better at identifying and expressing our emotions than others, as humans we all experience emotions and have emotional needs. In her research, Dr. Sue Johnson has found that most people want to know that their partner is there for them, will be emotionally available, help them feel needed and valued. This is a good talking point with your spouse or partner. Ask him or her what makes them feel valued, that they can depend on you. Focus on doing little things every day that will help your partner feel emotionally connected to you.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Give your partner your full attention when they talk to you. Remove distractions, make eye contact.
- Instead of getting defensive, listen to your partner’s feedback and let them know you value their feelings and their needs.
- Come to your partner first for advice or just to listen when you need help. (Make sure you let them know if you want advice or just a listening ear).
- Express appreciation for the ways your partner helps you.
- Share good news or highlights of your day with your spouse first before anyone else. Allow them to celebrate with you and help them feel you value them above all others.
Some relationships have experienced more significant tolls on the emotional trust and connection in the relationship. If you find that you are having difficulty reconnecting on your own, reach out for help. Seek out a relationship expert who will explore the “below the surface” issues with you and help you see the areas beyond communication that need strengthening.