Most couples when they come to see me talk about their arguing, they just can’t seem to get beyond it, they don’t feel heard, and they feel like their partner just doesn’t get them. They keep having the same fights, talking about the same issues and getting no where. Often, by the time they make an appointment to see me one or both partners has shut down, stopped trying to communicate, resentment has set in and the couple is in a stalemate. In those situations we spend a lot of time in the early stages of therapy working on practicing putting down our own personal agendas and just listening to what our partner is trying to communicate.
If this sounds like you and your partner - read on to learn a tool that will help you and your partner better hear what the other person is trying to communicate.
Each person get’s a piece of paper or notebook to write on.
Decide who will be the listener first (each person will get a chance to practice speaking and listening).
Rules for the speaker: A) No blaming or criticizing your partner B) No “You” statements, practice using “I” statements. I feel ___ when ___. I need ___. C) State your needs positively. For example “I need you to help with the dishes after dinner” NOT “I need you to stop making such a big mess and leaving it for me to clean up”.
Rules for the listener: A) Set aside your agenda and just focus on what your partner is trying to communicate to you. If you find it is hard to set your agenda aside, remind yourself that you too will have a turn to speak. B) As the speaker talks, take notes. C) Tune into your partners emotions, what is it they are wanting you to understand and know about their feelings and their experiences? D) Offer validation and ask questions (if needed) to deepen your understanding of your partner’s needs. E) When your partner is done speaking, state back what you heard your partner communicating to you.
Switch, speaker is now listener and vice versa.
When you start off using this tool it might not feel natural to use the paper to take notes or you may notice that you are distracted by your partner taking notes. I encourage you to work through this. Writing notes has many benefits, it helps the listener to better process what is being said, it helps to defuse some tension which decreases emotional flooding, and it helps support the listener if they become flooded while stating back what they heard the speaker say.
The goal with this tool is not to have resolution or compromise, it is only to hear and understand what your partner is saying and to help your partner understand what you are saying.
Using this early on in conflict will help you and your partner avoid getting the the point of resentment and withdraw.
If you and your partner could use a little help with navigating through conflict, working with a trained Gottman couples therapist will help you to learn valuable communication skills to help you and your partner learn to fight in a constructive way. Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry, LMFT is a level 2 Gottman trained therapist and will be completing level 3 in mid September. Gottman therapy is a scientifically backed couples therapy method that supports couples in building emotional connection, maintaining friendship, communicating needs, and working through conflict.