Say what? How couples connect through communication

by Tamlyn Anderson
Miscommunication is a common occurrence in relationships, particularly in romantic partnerships. BYY expert Clinical Psychologist, Tamlyn Anderson, gives some guidance on communication for couples
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Miscommunication is a common occurrence in relationships, particularly in romantic partnerships. BYY expert Clinical Psychologist, Tamlyn Anderson, gives some guidance on communication for couples.

When it comes to couples, communication plays a crucial role in the health and longevity of the relationship. Unhealthy communication patterns can cause problems and leave us feeling alone and resentful in the partnership. Understanding how miscommunication manifests and learning effective ways to navigate them can significantly impact the quality of the relationship.

Some examples of miscommunication:

  • Misinterpretation– these occur when one or both partners misunderstand the intended message of the other. This can happen due to differences in communication styles, past experiences, or emotional triggers. For example, a simple statement like “You never listen to me” can be interpreted differently by each partner, leading to feelings of frustration and hurt.
  • Criticism– verbally attacking your partners personality or character. This defensive communication occurs when partners feel attacked or criticised and respond in a harsh way to protect themselves emotionally. It leads to an escalation of difficult emotions and inevitably leads to further hurt. This can create a cycle of escalation where both partners feel unheard and unsupported. 
  • Defensiveness–victimising yourself to ward off a perceived attack and fevers the blame. This makes it difficult for your partner to engage in meaningful resolution of the problem. 
  • Stonewalling: withdrawing to avoid conflict and convey disapproval. This creates distance and separation. This often results in feelings of abandonment and leads to hurts building up and becoming even more problematic.  


The couples dialogue for miscommunication 

This technique is considered to be the gold standard in couples’ therapy. It involves active listening. One partner is the speaker while the other is the listener. The speaker expresses their emotions and their experience of a particular situation in a factual manner.

Only once the speaker has finished talking does the listener then speak by reflecting on what they heard the speaker say. Only once the speaker feels fully heard and validated then the roles change where the speaker becomes the listener, and the listener becomes the speaker. 

Key rules of dialoguing:

  • The speaker’s language must be factual and descriptive using “I language” to explain their experience. No over exaggerating eg. saying “you always” or using terms like “disrespectful” or “unthoughtful” which are personal opinions rather than facts.
  • Pick one topic or situation at a time to discuss. it is impossible to meaningfully work your way through a conflict if you are discussing multiple subjects at a time. Put time aside for another dialogue to discuss another issue if necessary. 
  • No interrupting. interrupting shows you are not actually listening or thinking about your partner’s unique experience. So, the listener needs to not speak until the speaker has finished.
  • Validation and empathy. The listener does not need to agree or apologise. But they do need to validate and show empathy for their partners separate experience and what their partner is trying to convey.
  • No one is all bad. It is toxic to believe that someone has to be all good and the other all bad in a dialogue. Both parties are allowed their own emotional experience of the situation and validation of each other’s experience can lead to a feeling of connectedness and understanding. 

By recognising defensive communication patterns and practicing active listening and empathy, couples can break the communication error cycle and foster a more open and understanding dialogue. 

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Frequently asked questions (FAQS)

Q1. What are some examples of miscommunication in relationships?

A1. Some examples include misinterpretation, where partners misunderstand each other’s intended messages, criticism, which involves attacking your partner’s personality or character, defensiveness, where one partner victimises themselves to avoid blame, and stonewalling, which involves withdrawing to avoid conflict.

Q2. What is the couples’ dialogue technique for addressing miscommunication?

A2. The couples’ dialogue technique involves active listening, where one partner speaks while the other listens attentively. The speaker expresses their emotions and experiences factually, and the listener reflects on what they heard before switching roles.

Q3. What are the key rules of dialoguing in couples therapy?

A3. The key rules include using factual and descriptive language, addressing one topic at a time, refraining from interrupting, showing validation and empathy, and avoiding the belief that one partner is all good and the other all bad.

Q4. How does the speaker’s language contribute to effective communication in the couples’ dialogue technique?

A4. The speaker’s language should be factual and descriptive, using “I language” to explain their own experiences without over exaggeration or personal opinions. This helps to convey their emotions and perspectives clearly.

Q5. Why is it important to address only one topic at a time during the couples’ dialogue?

A5. Addressing one topic at a time allows partners to meaningfully work through conflicts without becoming overwhelmed or distracted. It ensures focused and effective communication, with the option to address additional topics in separate dialogues if necessary.

Q6. What role does validation and empathy play in the couples’ dialogue technique?

A6. Validation and empathy are essential components of the technique, as they demonstrate understanding and support for each partner’s experiences and emotions. It fosters a sense of connection and mutual respect within the relationship.

Q7. How can defensive communication patterns be recognised and addressed in relationships?

A7. Defensive communication patterns can be recognised by identifying behaviours such as defensiveness, criticism, or stonewalling. Addressing these patterns involves practising active listening, empathy, and refraining from personal attacks.

Q8. What is the purpose of the listener in the couples’ dialogue technique?

A8. The listener’s role is to attentively listen to the speaker without interrupting, reflect on what they heard, and demonstrate validation and empathy towards their partner’s experiences. This promotes understanding and effective communication.

Q9. How can couples break the cycle of miscommunication in their relationship?

A9. Couples can break the cycle of miscommunication by recognising defensive communication patterns, practising active listening, empathy, and validation, and fostering open and understanding dialogue through techniques such as the couples’ dialogue.

Q10. What benefits can couples expect from implementing the couples’ dialogue technique?

A10. Implementing the couples’ dialogue technique can lead to improved communication, increased understanding, and strengthened emotional connection within the relationship. It allows partners to address conflicts constructively and foster a healthier partnership overall.

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