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Above All Else Keep Talking

Before the New Year I read an article in Business Insider UK that describes the results of a survey undertaken by the University of Virginia over a period of 6 years. It looked at the frequency of divorce among a total of 3597 couple who were asked two questions;

  1. On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being much worse and 5 being much better, how do you think your level of happiness would be different if you and your partner separated?
  2. How do you think your partner's level of happiness would be different if you and your partner separated? (Use the same scale.)

Results showed (surprise, surprise!) that if you judged yourself as likely to be happier if you split with your partner, you were more likely to divorce, but also making the assumption that your partner was happy with the relationship could lead to difficulties and potential relationship breakdown.

Two of the most frequent discussions I have with couples who are trying to get their relationship back on track are about making assumptions and the idea that because they have been with their partner for  considerable amount of time, they have developed the ability to ‘mind read’! It is a fact that as a relationship matures, expectations of each other can change and where once you would have been very clear about telling your partner how you felt and if you wanted to be treated differently and equally enquiring of them how they felt, as time goes on we can expect them somehow to just know.

At what point do couples become so familiar with each other that they forget to talk? Is it reasonable to expect your partner to pick up on visual not verbal cues that are indicating that all is not well with the partnership? How many times have I heard a partner say, ‘well, I kept asking what was wrong and you kept saying nothing!’ or the late returns from work were either accepted or harangued rather than treated as a sign of unhappiness and being sympathetically discussed.

I believe effective communication is the key to durable couple relationships, but it is also highly complex. It relies on using the correct language and tone, making sure our facial expression and body language are consistent with what we are saying and most importantly listening to the response your partner is giving, rather than composing in your head what you’re going to say next!

We learn how to communicate by watching how it was done in our family of origin, how our mothers and fathers spoke to each other often gives us our blueprint of how we will speak to our partner if in a heterosexual relationship. If they treated each other with respect verbally, remained curious about how each other felt and were comfortable with being honest about their own feelings, then that will stand us in good stead as we make our own adult relationships.  It is common place that if we have a less positive model as a point of reference then things can be a little trickier!

So whilst the article suggests that we should all ensure that we keep talking to our partner about how happy or unhappy they are, let’s get real and acknowledge that it isn’t always as easy as it sounds! 

If you would like more information on this topic or how counselling may help your relationship, please don’t hesitate to contact me.