Communication in relationships
is one of those key requirements which is understood to be crucial to a good relationship, but hard to define and consequently, quite hard to either alter or master.
Common issues in
Therapy can be helpful
communication within relationships
can be particularly problematic within our closest
– it can be much easier to communicate clearly and successfully with people who are more distant.
For many people it’s much easier to communicate clearly with work colleagues or with friends than it is with partners or family members. This may be because it is harder to say what we mean, what we want or don’t want, to people who matter to us the most. There is also the possibility that we assume that we know what people close to us are going to say, or going to think, rather than listening to what they do say (‘mind-reading’ is a common - and not very useful - unhelpful thinking pattern in
Compromise and negotiation: these skills are pre-requisites for all of us in all our
. Surprisingly, though, many of us are not very good at negotiating, or even very good at knowing when we need to negotiate. Given that we will have different needs, expectations and patterns of behaviour to our partners, or family, negotiation is the only way to be able to bridge these gaps. When there is a difference of expectation or opinion, accepting that compromise is necessary and knowing how to arrive at a compromise is often the only way forward. Compromises will not give either party all of what they want, but a good compromise will arrive at an agreement or a resolution that both can live with.?
Difference: the ways in which we differ from our partners or our family may be what causes most frustration in those relationships. We often assume that the beliefs we have about what is acceptable or unacceptable, or the way that relationships ‘are supposed to be’ are in some way universal. In other words, that the way that we think things should be, is the way that everyone thinks they should be. This is another unhelpful thinking style, and even a fallacy, but it is a fallacy that can be hard to relinquish. If we can accept the differences and acknowledge that the way that we do things or think about things, is not the only way, or even the best way, differences are much less problematic.
Distance and closeness: it is unusual for people to feel comfortable all the time with the same amount of emotional – or physical – distance or closeness as their partners. There may be times when you want to be close, or to be distant, which is the exact opposite of what your partner wants or expects at that time. For instance, when they’re upset, some people really want their partner to be close – both emotionally and physically – while others want some distance at that time. This difference – because that’s all it is, a difference – can lead to both people feeling upset or misunderstood, rejected or swamped.
Doing things together and separately: this is just one example of how differing expectations can cause real problems in close relationships. People may have very different beliefs about how much family members or partners should do things together, or how much time they should be able to spend apart, doing things separately. This sounds like a relatively uncontentious issue, but in practice, it can be a very difficult area in lots of
. The difficulty arises if the question of spending time together or apart is seen as a measure of intimacy, commitment or loyalty to the relationship, rather than as a different preference or belief.
Expressing anger, or being angry: anger, or how we express anger, is an area that many of us learn about in our families of origin. This early experience of anger – our own, or our parents – can be immensely influential in determining our beliefs about anger in later relationships. If our experience of anger was linked to very adverse consequences, i.e. that if people were angry or raised their voices, that violence would result, it can be very difficult to feel comfortable or safe with raised voices, door slamming, or other manifestations of anger. For people who were brought up in families where parents could have rows or disagreements – at the top of their voices, perhaps – where there were few adverse consequences (no violence, no long-term sulking, no threats of separation or leaving), it can be difficult to understand why raising your voice in a disagreement is experienced as threatening or unsafe.
CBT focuses on reviewing and reworking unhelpful thinking styles and behavioural habits. For this reason it is one of the most useful ways of disentangling unsuccessful communicational strategies and therefore, of altering and improving communication styles.This can require addressing some of the 'beliefs' you hold about relationships, you in relationship, what makes us vulnerable and how we can be understood by people who matter to us.
We can know in the abstract what we need to change, but in the context of close
, it can feel problematic to make those changes. A skilled
cognitive behavioural therapist
can help us to make the transition from insight, into action, and help to change rigid beliefs. Once we have developed more flexible beliefs, we are then more able to think and behave more affectively, and live more happily in our relationships.