Let’s Talk About Our Relationship– III

Couple sitting on a couch construcively solving a conflict.So we are continuing to figure out how to talk to each  other. Mind you, this is as simple as it seems– and it’s not, at the same time. Here’s why. When everyone is getting along fine, we give each other the benefit of the doubt. The process is fault-tolerant, you might say. A classic example of this is shown in a bit of dialogue that might run like this:

“Did you go to the store, honey?”

“I went and got the milk, something for dinner, and supplies to make school lunches for the week.”

The original question is a yes-or-no question, but the person responding answered a couple of unspoken questions about whether or not they got what was on the shopping list and whether or not they are planning ahead. If you listen carefully to people talking, this happens all the time. But when things start to go bad, people will answer unspoken questions– possibly with an attitude. Possible example:

“Did you remember to get milk at the store, honey?”

“Of course I got the milk. I’m not the scatter-brained idiot you seem to think I am!” I remembered to take the list and everything.”

Obviously, couple number one is getting along fine, and couple number two have issues. It’s very hard to explicate this idea in writing, because so much hinges on people’s tone of voice and body language. But one way to reduce conflict for couple number two is simplification. In fact, the respondent can minimize chances for conflict by answering exactly and only the question that was asked:

“Did you remember to get milk at the store, honey?”

“Yes, I got the milk.”

Even here, the if person answering uses a long-suffering tone of voice or rolls their eyes, things can start to go downhill. But keeping it neutral is a start. You’d be amazed (or maybe not) at how hard it is to be neutral when things have gotten tense in a relationship.

In laying out this aspect of trying to mend communication, I’ve actually gotten ahead of myself.  But I’ve seen so many couples whose communication turns into a runaway train that I was thinking about processes that we can implement that will slow the train down & prevent it from wrecking. But there is a very simple way to take things slowly and carefully, and I’ll run that down in the next post.

I’d love to hear from anyone what their experiences have been with what makes communication good– or bad– or maybe just weird– in their intimate relationships.


About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
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