I’ve met so many couples during my years as a psychotherapist whose problems boil down to a simple lack of communication. On second thought, let me rephrase that. These couples may communicate in the literal sense of the word, in that they are ‘conveying information’ but are they communicating? Are they not only listening to each other (note: hearing and listening are two entirely different things!), but also internalizing each other’s messages? By internalizing, I mean are they listening to their partner without barriers such as blame, defensiveness and ego getting in the way of their understanding of and empathy with what their partner is saying? This is what’s key to a healthy relationship, as only once a couple can communicate without these barriers, can they start on the path of change to a mutually fulfilling and intimate relationship.
In most cases, this type of communication skill does not come naturally and the only way to ingrain it into your relationship is to learn and continually use this valuable communication strategy:
The Mirroring Exercise (Harville Hendrix) –
Love does not automatically translate into a happy and successful relationship based on good communication. This strategy is all about that other ‘L’ word….Listening.
In this exercise, couples need to appoint a ‘sender’ and a ‘receiver’. The sender will share his/her feelings and thoughts about a subject, while the receiver listens quietly. The receiver will then repeat the facts exactly as the sender said them, without expressing his/her own feelings, defensiveness or explanations. Once the sender has approved the statement, the partners will switch roles and repeat the exercise. This strategy opens the lines of communication between partners and achieves validation and empathy.
Practice this strategy at home with your partner as often as possible – how about as a daily activity after dinner or once the kids have been put to sleep? Don’t wait until you’re in the heat of an argument to try to use this technique – that’s often not the best time to try something new as rationality is usually overrun by emotion at that point. Rather, practice the Mirroring Exercise regularly so that it becomes a habit for you as a couple.