When Couples Stop Communicating

Some people stay in their relationships even when they feel distant from their partner.  I’ve seen couples spend decades with a person they don’t really know, or think about.  They just find a way to exist inside the relationship.  It’s like they
live alone, even though they are a couple.

People who find themselves in this type of situation might wonder if their life is happy enough.  They might quietly ask themselves if they could have a better life by making some changes. Maybe they resign themselves and just accept their circumstances.

I’ve worked with couples who have been together for decades.  They tell me they don’t want to end their marriage.  They tell me they love the other person. What I often see are two people who believe they know each other so well they don’t even see the other person anymore.  They’ve become people who can answer the other’s sentences. They already know what the other person is going to say even before they say it.  The curiosity and wonder about their mate has vanished.

They come to counseling to get “better”.  They want what they used to have; closeness, laughter, possibilities.  They want me to help them find it again, as if it’s just hidden somewhere and I can use my therapeutic x-ray vision to spot it.  I wish it was this easy.  I wish I could just help couples feel good about being in their relationship again. 

But I know it’s not that simple.  I do have good vision, and I can probably help couples see what happened to their relationship and why they feel the way they do.  This is often helpful, but it’s just the beginning.  The real work comes
when each person wants to have a better relationship and isn’t expecting the other to make it better for them.

If one or both people in the relationship are waiting for the other to change, that relationship is going to stay the same. It isn’t up to one person to make it different for the other. A relationship improves when both people look at themselves.
When each person starts to see how they talk, and react to the other person, then there’s a good chance for change. 

In counseling each person begins to understand what he or she is about.  They learn what they have wanted and needed from the other person and they acquire the skills to ask for it.  If a couple wants to save a relationship it’s likely both want to see their partner happy. If this is your situation why not try counseling, dig in and fight for what you really want; love, closeness, understanding, kindness, support.

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When Couples Argue

Sometimes when I see couples they are a little embarrassed to tell me how they communicate with each other, especially when they are in a heated argument.  They often blame the other for making them feel so terrible. I usually hear something like, “He always does this,” “She never stops doing that.”

Both people are locked in their pattern of responding to the other.  These patterns cement over time.  When people get to the end of their rope they say the most emphatic thing to the other person so they can to be heard.  Sometimes it’s really harsh.  And when a couple gets to this point they are locked in dueling tirades.

They might sound something like this.  “You blank, blank, blank.  You make me so blank mad.  I hate you.  I wish you were dead.  I wish we never met.”  Both people are yelling curse words at each other and it’s as explosive as it can get.

Maybe one person does the yelling one time and the other person yells another time.  Maybe this is your pattern.  What ever your particulars, I know that you will feel terrible after it’s over. 

No one likes yelling. No one feels terrific about him or herself after yelling at their mate.  You might feel a little bit of release from the pent up anger, but I have never met a person who actually likes this behavior.  Most people I meet are embarrassed about it.  Why embarrassment?  Because everyone who yells knows deep down inside that it’s wrong. 

No one wins when someone yells.  Every one feels terrible.

I worked with a couple recently.  They were civil to each other inside the therapy room. But I got a glimpse of the kind of arguing they do when they are at the end of their rope.  It’s as bad as it gets, each hurling the worst cursing insults at the other.  They came to therapy a few times.  But I never got the sense that they were really in it. 

Sometimes people think that one, or two sessions will change things.  If they don’t feel better they assume that the therapy isn’t working and then they might rationalize, “We can live with the situation here at home.  It’s bad, but we can live with it.”

And they can.  Each couple knows what they can handle.  I just know that couples who learn about themselves and understand that they are fighting because their needs have not been met, are a lot happier in their relationships.  I know that when couples allow the therapy to work they feel better. They figure out different ways to communicate and they eliminate the harmful dueling.

Some couples are looking for the magic answer.  The answer doesn’t come from me, I know that the answers live inside each person in the relationship; all that’s needed is a guide.

Send me your comments at linda@lindanusbaum.com

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Are You Angry at Your Mate?

A lot of couples I work with are angry at their partner.  Sometimes this anger has been building for a long time.  When the couple finally gets into therapy they are so ready to explode and sometimes they just unleash on each other. 

When this happens while I watch the fight I already know a couple of things.  The first is that both are in a lot of pain.  The second is that neither is getting their needs met and the louder and longer the argument, the greater the chance each person is feeling isolated in the relationship.  When couples spend their time in a back and forth disagreeing state, that tells me they are spending less time in a state of togetherness.

The irony is that couples who live with this difficulty are desperate for closeness with each other, yet the arguing between them prevents exactly what they both want.

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