Communication Between Couples

By | April 26, 2023 | |

We often do not think that couple communication needs to be learnt and consider it an organic form of connection that happens when we become a union. So it might surprise you when I say, as a therapist, the number one issue couples cite when they come for couple counselling is the stumbling block they have in communication.

This is a big irony because the common reason couples got together in the first place is usually that they felt an emotional connection in the relationship; they felt understood and heard. In other words, they communicated and felt intimate within their communication. So, what happened to their communication?

John & Julie Gottman – the pioneers in couple therapy and research.

In their bid to study couple communication and behaviour, John and Julie set up a love lab study space and invite couples to stay or ‘hang out’ in the apartment while they are being filmed with their consent.

In their study, the therapists have observed that couples communicate their needs for attention and connection to one another verbally and in non-verbal ways.

For instance, one partner may ask for a drink, and the other person may respond by making the drink or ignoring the request. Or one partner may share a place she would like to visit on their next vacation, and the other either acknowledges and shows some interest, or he might not answer, or he might reject the idea.

In Gottman’s language, when a bid for connection has been made, the other partner can either:
1) Turn towards the bid by responding positively to it.
2) Turn away from the bid by ignoring their partner.
3) Turn against the bid by verbally attacking their partner for making the bid.

So, when partners turn towards each other for connection and get a positive response, it will build the couple’s emotional bank account. The feelings towards each other get the positive fuel, and over time, this emotional bank account grows, and communication & connection are fostered. But on the other hand, the two behaviour styles, rejection or non-responsiveness to a bid, may deplete or destroy the emotional bank account.

When couples say they have communication problems, it may not just be poor communication skills. It may be because they have not nurtured their emotional bank account over a long period, leading to many unmet needs in the relationship. The inability to build an emotional bank may lead to unspoken frustration and resentment, and then it does not take much for a crisis to occur.

It is common for couples to be so occupied with the stresses of daily life that they fail to make regular emotional connections. This happens for married couples and couples dating for a long time. Over time, they don’t turn to each other anymore because they are not getting positive responses from their partners.

The feelings become disillusionment and disconnection from initial disappointments, leading to checking out emotionally from each other. As a result, many couples turn outside to others’ possible relationships or sometimes activities to seek emotional validation and support.

So, the next time your partner makes a bid for a connection with you, use this opportunity and remember that they can be a long-lasting impact on your connection and communication. Building your emotional bank account with your spouse/partner is always early. The more deposits you make during good times, the more you can withdraw the ‘credits.

 

The Gottman Institute (n.d.). The Gottman Method Couples Therapy. (2022, August 9). https://www.gottman.com/

Understanding and stopping negative sentiment override — Colorado couples & family therapy. (2023, January 29). Colorado Couples & Family Therapy. https://www.coloradocft.com/blog-alt-2/2022/3/8/understanding-and-stopping-negative-sentiment-override

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