Lifelong Love

Creating and Maintaining an Extraordinary Relationship

Conflict? Better communication or a better answer?

Sometimes communication is not the answer

Judge Judy, when asked this week by Katie Couric on her show “Katie,” about the secret to her 37-year marriage, said “it’s not communication. We hardly communicate. ..We take deep breaths.” This wise woman and her husband are perfect examples of how communication, the third C of our 4 C’s of Lifelong Love, actually works. As Judge Judy and research indicate, often, in fact, it may be better not to communicate.

So often when couples in conflict come in for therapy or coaching, they say their problem is “communication.” Actually, the main problem in their relationship is probably not about communicating. While useful in many respects, communicating feelings does not in and of itself solve the problem. It is putting the cart before the horse. Communication can even be dangerous and destructive, making things worse instead of better. In the name of “better communication,” partners may attack, blame and berate each other, which may only serve to reinforce the conflict between them

Arguing about politics? Communicating your different views may not be the answer. Just like with politicians, having more debates and meetings to argue your case may not help matters. It may actually exacerbate the problem and create more division.

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What is needed for communication to be truly useful and effective in relationships or in politics is commitment to a common vision. Communication is the third C of the Four C’s of Lifelong Love, not the first, for this reason. Communication is a tool, and for it to work correctly, it must be used in the right way. Without the underlying support of a joint vision for the couple, there is no real communication. With a committed goal, communicating by the partners will be in support of that goal and not just their own opinions or needs. Then they can work together effectively as a team to reach that goal.

We are seeing the same principle at work in politics and our government. When citizens and politicians lose sight of a common goal, we end up working against each other rather than as a team, and hardly anything gets resolved. Total agreement is not necessary, but mutual respect and responsible speaking and listening are. The objective is to talk to each other not at each other, so that both of you feel heard and understood. That kind of communication is truly a gift that fosters lifelong love.

Good communication is not something that happens automatically. It takes commitment and cooperation and practice. You have probably heard about using “I” statements rather than “you” statements. Now try “we” language: focus on using the word “we” rather than “I” with your partner, even when it may seem awkward. For example, say “we are angry” even if only one of you may be expressing anger at the time. By indicating in these words that you take joint responsibility for the conflict, you can help diffuse it, and you may feel more generous and accepting toward each other when you do. By changing perspective and using Couple language, you sidestep blame and guilt, recognizing that no one person is at fault.

To practice communicating from the place of commitment to a common vision and mutual responsibility, try this exercise from Lifelong Love (Harlequin, 2012, p. 115):

Devoting a Day to “We”

Choose a day to use only the word “we” when referring to yourself or your partner. This exercise may seem difficult or silly. That’s okay. Notice what you feel when you eliminate “I” from your speech and rely on “we.” Let us know how it goes. Good luck and have fun with it!

Phyllis R. Koch-Sheras, Ph.D. is an author and a practicing clinical psychologist in Charlottesville, Virginia specializing in working with couples, dreams, and psychotherapy with adults. Peter L. Sheras, Ph.D. more...

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