Help With Communication Issues

What Do We Do When We Don’t Speak The Same Language? 

This is not a post about people speaking two different languages such as English and Spanish.  This is a story about couples that talk to each other but it feels as if they just don’t speak the same language; they talk but they can’t hear each other, as if both are speaking in a foreign dialect. Couples who fall into this category try to communicate but usually end up giving up because it gets too frustrating.  Both people want to get their points across but it’s so difficult many couples just stop trying.

This is more common than you might think. I often see couples come into my office for counseling; they will look at me as if I am a translator and can help them decipher their partner and help them understand each other.  They both hope that I can bridge the gap that’s been keeping them separate, sometimes for a long time.

Most couples in this predicament have spent a lot of time trying to fix the problem.  They’ve also probably grown tired of trying because they each feel as if they already know what the other person is going to say and they just don’t want to hear it.  In this case they often just stop talking to them.  These couples are at an impasse, and that’s not uncommon either.

Each person had needs that have not been met.  They each want to convey something to the other person, only they don’t know how.  They have been trying to accomplish this, maybe for years and they are so tired of trying they have just given up and accepted that this is how they are going to feel in the relationship… frustrated, disappointed, discouraged.

When people have been living with this situation for a long period of time it’s not uncommon for one or the other to say, “It’s not working.”  The truth is; it’s not.  This relationship is not working in terms of two people feeling good about it and each other.  That’s why counseling can be helpful.  As a marriage and family therapist in private practice in Long Beach, California I am able to hear what’s missing.  I can understand what a conversation would sound like if the couple was having one where each got his and her point across and could be heard.

When I meet with a couple in this kind of situation I start by asking each to tell me about their life.  As a third party I have no trouble hearing each as individuals.  I gather information and then I help them decode what they can’t seem to hear or understand about the other.  Since I am not invested in the outcome of what I am hearing I can easily investigate what one person is trying to say to the other.  Sometimes it sounds like, “He never listens to me,” or “She always nags me.”

These complaints are loaded with emotions.  It’s not just the words I am interested in; it’s what feelings accompany the discomfort.   I often can hear what is missing, which usually encompasses longing or attention.  When she says “He never listens”, I hear a longing to feel valued.  When he says “She always nags”, I hear “I feel invisible.”  Some of what’s not being said could sound like this, the wife wants to be heard when she tells her husband about something. The husband wants the wife to understand that he doesn’t feel appreciated.  It’s very frustrating to live in a relationship where you don’t feel your partner values or appreciates you.  These are important aspects of a good partnership.

Couples that find themselves in this sort of struggle are in need of new ways to communicate to get their points across.  To achieve this, each person has to do some internal work to learn what they need.  When each person knows what he or she needs they can then ask for it from the other person – instead of just being upset because they are not getting it.  No more expecting from the partner, no more disappointment and loneliness either.  Just two people relating openly and honestly about how they feel and what they would like.

When couples do this, then they get true communication, where each person can be heard.  And that’s a whole lot easier than speaking a foreign language.

Call for a free pnone consultation with Linda (562) 293-1737

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When Partners Live With Pain

Most people have an amazingly high tolerance for discomfort.  Some of us can even live many years feeling terrible, terrible about our mate and our relationships.  As a couples counselor I am sometimes surprised though, at how much pain a couple will endure before seeking help.

When I see a couple that feels terrible about their marriage or partnership I am always interested in finding out when the problems began.  Sometimes I hear answers like “six years”, six years, imaging feeling terrible about your relationship for six years.  If you are in a happy relationship you might not even be able to imagine it.  But if you have been suffering for a number of years, you are locked in a system of discomfort and it’s possible you may have lost your sense of time.  You may have forgotten about earlier years when the relationship felt better, and you may have resigned yourself to living your current life because that’s “ just the way it is”.

Most people accept “just the way it is” because they don’t know it could be different.  They may wish it was different, but they don’t know what to do to change the circumstances to make life different.  It’s likely both people in the relationship have tried everything they know to make things better, but the efforts fail. When couples get desperate enough, that’s usually the time they come in for counseling.

And when I see a couple at this point the couple is often wondering if I can save or fix the relationship.  I tell them, “I don’t fix relationships, I help you figure out what you want and then I help you get that.  If that is a good relationship than great, I can help you.”

I tell them there is no fix; there is just awareness, intention and action.  Learn about yourself.  Learn about your partner.  Ask for what would make you happy.  Find out how to make your partner happy.  It may sound simple, but for couples who are bruised from living years of unhappiness all these ideas can appear as just words, hollow.

I think the most important thing I can impart to a distressed couple is that there might be another way to relate to one another that could feel better.  And that may be all a couple that’s been in pain for a while can hear.  They might have stopped believing they can even be happy with each other, and they’ve probably accepted their lot in life, one that includes difficulties.

It’s too much for a person in pain to go from discomfort to happy in an instant. But what they might be able to hold on to is the thought that maybe; just maybe they could feel better.  When people start to feel better they become less stressed, less stressed about their problems and the relationship.  Less stress gives the mind a chance to relax and become more welcoming to new thoughts about what may be possible.

Possibilities, ideas, new ways of communicating, hope.  This is what can happen when the mind is relaxed, new ways of thinking and new ways of thinking can lead to a new life.  And isn’t that what distressed couples are after?  Something better, something loving, something hopeful, a new life.

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