Week 9: Communication Issues

Communication is the foundation of a strong relationship. Therefore, finding and addressing communication issues can strengthen and weed out many of the problems in your relationship. For example, scientific studies have shown that negativity can be extremely detrimental to relationships and become a slow yet toxic problem. This is why you and your partner must learn to recognize and address any communication issues.

Listen to Cathryn and Rachel's tools and techniques discussed during this week's video to help address communication issues.

Share below what techniques you look to take with you as you exercise your "communication" muscle.


Cathryn (00:02):

Welcome to Week 9 of the Relationship Journal Companion Course and you have probably heard the saying communication is key to a great relationship. Did you know that most relationships end because of communication? So that's why it's so important that you get on top of this stuff. And all the work we've done up to now leads to better communication and this is just the next step. Since communication is so important, it's imperative that we address communication issues early so that we can better express ourselves to our partner. One of the most common communication issues is negativity. Scientific studies have shown that negativity can become extremely detrimental to your relationships and become a slow and toxic problem. So we want to get into how do we express ourselves without coming across negative? Because there is a way and Rachel and I are going to jump into it right now.

New Speaker (00:57):

This week is all about navigating communication challenges and we've learned about "The 4 Horsemen." So how have you seen these "4 Horsemen" show up in relationships and what are some ways we can navigate these or avoid them altogether?

Rachel (01:13):

One of my favorite things about the Gottman's and the research that they've done around these Four Horsemen is that we not only know what they are but how to...what the antidote is for them. So if we are feeling or sensing a defensiveness from our partner, one thing that we can do is what the Gottman's call a softened start-up which is very similar to what we've been talking about this whole time, in terms of approaching your partner with that same calm, loving energy that you would want to be approached with. That's what helps combat defensiveness and each thing, you know, criticism, contempt and stonewalling, being the other three, has this antidote that really helps overcome it. I've seen them pop up in so many different ways but what I will say is that all of them are really tweakable except for stonewalling. Because stonewalling is pretty much you're done. And there's not a lot of wiggle room when someone has either consciously or unconsciously decided that there are no longer available for the conversation. And that's essentially what stonewalling is. It's like literally a stonewall and you are no longer available. So when that's conscious it's obviously very, very damaging and it can be damaging when it's unconscious too

Cathryn (02:41):

And what are the other antidotes for maybe contempt?

Rachel (02:46):

So we're talking about antidotes to these Four Horsemen and we're talking about how stonewalling is kind of the one with no wiggle room, we need a break when that happens. The only way to actually break down stonewalling is to take that time out we were talking about. So being able to self-soothe and have that wall break down and be able to participate in the conversation. The antidote to defensiveness specifically is taking responsibility. Now, I would argue that one only becomes defensive when there is a harsh startup right? It's really hard to become defensive if somebody brings you "I feel sad." So I have seen in my practice that a gentle start-up is just as powerful if not more powerful than taking responsibility. And then in terms of the antidote for contempt, it's the Gottman's call it building a culture of appreciation. And so if you have a culture in your home of appreciation and we've talked a lot about how to express appreciation, contempt is the exact opposite of that.

New Speaker (03:56):

And so it's really hard to reach the other end of that spectrum if the culture in your home is generally living over here. So those are the antidotes. And it's more important that you're able to identify these things and just without judgment say "Hey, that felt really critical, can we rephrase?" You know, like especially as you're working through these things and you've just learned what criticism can do to a relationship. Like be patient with yourself, be patient with your partner and name between the two of you that you want to call each other out gently and lovingly if you hear these things come up.

Cathryn (04:40):

Yeah. And I think one of the things with the whole journal product was counteracting these things before they come up. So that's why we're cultivating appreciation and starting, you know, what might come across as a conflict conversation in an easy way, in describing, you know, starting with an I statement instead of, you know, a global criticism of everything they've ever done wrong. Because it's these small, you know, creating these rituals or behaviors of either, you know, what to do or what not to do to counteract these horsemen before they even show up. Which is why we didn't get to them until now because we want you to put the stuff in place. So you're not trying to fix something because you notice that you've already, you know, already put the behaviors in place to, you know, counteract that. Now, how would you bring up poor communication styles with...from your partner in a way that's loving and it doesn't, you know, shut them down even further, maybe?

Rachel (05:48):

Focusing on the "Why." So speaking in first person, "I want to make the communication in our relationship more healthy and effective. Is that something that you're interested in?" Or "Hey, I've noticed we've been getting in arguments more frequently than what is our normal, would you want to learn about healthy communication with me?" Like really making it an invitation for the person to join you in the growth rather than "You suck, I know my stuff. You should probably learn." Right? It's like "Hey, let's do this together, we're in this together."

Cathryn (06:35):

And what advice would you give to a couple who just did the quiz and maybe they have a higher number than they expected?

Rachel (06:45):

Compassion, empathy, patience, and acceptance. You are where you are today, period. We can't change anything that occurred before right now. Like right before this moment, everything else has happened already. Right now and right now, and right now, and right now in every moment, moving forward, we have the opportunity to change that. And so I would just like with any assessment score number, look at it as a fundamental starting place and see where you want to go. Don't use it as evidence or a way to beat yourself down or your partner down, or even lift yourself up too much. You know, like let's just all acknowledge, we didn't learn how to communicate, communication issues are gonna pop up. That's why we're here and we can all do better.

Cathryn (07:41):

Yeah. And I think if this is the first time you are doing anything like this in your relationship, then again it's kinda like, you never learned how to do this before. This is not something we're taught in school or university or anywhere like that and so you are a kindergartner in trying to deal with this stuff. So why are you expecting to be a university professor with a low score and like knowing exactly how to communicate when this is not something that you've been taught? So, yeah, I think empathy and I know a lot of our customers are very high achievers in different areas of life. So, you know, you might come into this and thank God the score is no good, I should be better. It's like no, you've been busy doing other things in other areas and this hasn't been a focus for a lot of people because we're not taught that it should be a focus. And so be easy on yourself and you know, you're here so far so let's move forward and you know, figure out what the issues are so we can fix them.

Rachel (08:45):

Exactly. There's no...the only point in focusing on the past is to be able to glean lessons and heal. And if we're not learning something and we're not healing or enjoying going down memory lane, there's really no reason to do that. And we do it often, especially with negative things right? Like we remember negative stuff a lot.

Cathryn (09:15):

Oh, for sure. How often you hear, you know, you could hear 30 positive statements but one negative you're like "what?" It's like the other 30 didn't count. I think there's a statistic, it's something like you have to do seven nice things to your partner or with your partner to negate one negative or critical thing that you might say to them. So it's kind of like that whole like yeah, the whole love deposit so you have to make seven love deposits before you can make a withdrawal. And when you take one withdrawal which is one critical statement, it wipes out that balance of seven that you've put in there. So that's why you always have to make deposits just in case, you know, you're tired one day or you just flippantly say something you've just removed the seven deposits that you've been putting in there.

Rachel (10:06):

And I think that it's really important to remember that this is how our brains work. Like this is not someone being needy or not needy or neat like this is how our brains work. We need seven positive things to actually balance that one negative. Like that's really a lot of things. Like when you really think about it, it's a lot.

Cathryn (10:35):

Yeah. Why do we tend to make these sweeping statements about our partner? Like, what's that about? Why do we do that?

Rachel (10:48):

We don't know how to talk. Like truly the way that we speak in especially in the U.S. is so general. Like "Oh, these people this, that person, that." Like it is so general. And we then bring that into our conversations with our partner. It's also a lack of mindfulness. It's a lack of acknowledging that our words have deep, deep meaning. And that what we say we want our partners to hear. And so frankly when we use these big sweeping statements they're less likely to take us seriously right? If you experienced me Cathryn, as someone who says over exaggerates or suddenly, you know "There were 150 people there," and there were like 25. You're going to start to not trust my judgment and we don't want that. And so when we speak in generalities over and over and over again, what happens is subconsciously we just start to not trust what the person's saying because it's like "Well, you keep saying I always don't take out the trash and that's wrong so then maybe everything else you're saying is wrong." So we do it unconsciously most of the time but the damage is massive and the impact of becoming conscious of not using those is so big.

Cathryn (12:21):

Yeah. So I can see as people are going through this journal they might come to communication issues and just working through the communication issues, brings up a lot of difficult confronting conversations. That like we said before, you're kindergarten are trying to do difficult work which you are not yet skilled in doing. What are some tips that you can give to people to better navigate this when they are sort of new dealing with these type of conversations? And you with really trying to understand how to communicate better.

Rachel (13:02):

So my biggest piece of advice is to create a container. And what I mean by that is pretend like you're going to a couples therapy session right? That is a container. You know, how much time it's going to be, you know, the agreements and guidelines that you're operating within. And you also know that it's a place of no judgment, it's okay to make mistakes and there's tons of empathy. So create a container at home. Decide how long, decide on what your agreements are, name at the top that you're both kindergarteners trying something new or you know, maybe you feel like you're in third grade this time and you've graduated. Giving it that container, you can then say "Okay, it's been 20 minutes I'm ready to be done. Like we said 20 minutes, we hit 20 minutes, we're done." Or you can say "Hey, this is actually feeling really good, do you want to extend our container by 10 more minutes?" And then that in itself is asking for what we need or want in that moment. So it's like a very meta thing but by creating this container to exist inside of together, you can really...it helps decrease that anxiety.

Cathryn (14:21):

That's awesome, I love that...the metaness of that. What are some ways that couples can create a ritual around, you know, creating space in their routine just to integrate it? So it's not, you know, something that they do every now and again when they remember but they're actually doing it each day or each week in order to build that muscle and habit. What are some ways that you've seen work well with couples that worked with?

Rachel (14:52):

Especially at the beginning, it's putting a time on the calendar. So the container that I'm talking about, literally put it on your calendar like you would a business meeting, or lunch with a friend or whatever you would typically put on your calendar. Mark it off and we'll talk about this when we talk about sex and intimacy but it's similar for sex and intimacy. It's setting a container with an intention. And what you're doing is all you're saying is from 10:00 to 10:20 on Saturday morning, I'm going to be with my partner and the intention is to talk about "why" and that's it, right? It becomes so much less, there's no more decision fatigue then. It's like, when are we going to do it? How are we going to do it? And if it's scheduled out and you've already read to that time, it's one less thing you have to create or remember or think about.

Cathryn (15:44):

Yeah. And I think one important...creating a ritual around it could be like 10 minutes a day of all you're doing is talking to each other not having your phones around and uninterrupted time to talk about whatever it is. And this is something that I started, we started doing a while ago but it's funny how before you do this you actually are constantly distracted by other things outside. Like your phone, or alerts, or other people, or other things going on or you know, pandemics.

New Speaker (16:18):

And when you take the time of just like "Okay, we're this is just us for 10 minutes" you could actually have a really deep conversation in 10 minutes if you start talking. One thing that we've started to do is each day it's like a high, low of like "Oh, what was your high for the day? And what's your low for the day?" And if we do that at the end of the day, it gives us a good idea of like staying, you know, building that love map idea of like staying on top of "Oh, what's going on in each other's lives?" And sometimes leads to even more conversation. But if you make that container of just like not even 10 minutes, like 5 to 10 minutes at the end of the day, and if it opens up more conversation, that's great. But otherwise it's just touch point that you have in your day that you're not interrupted by other things.

Rachel (17:06):

Yes. And if you have kids, you're showing them what it looks like to create space for your relationship. Like "Hey, we're going to take 10 minutes, please don't come into the living room or please don't come into the bedroom. We'll be out in 10 minutes. We love you." And like kids love that! Kids love structure and hearing like this is what the guideline is like we're going to go talk in here. And then they're learning subconsciously that a healthy relationship has time alone to check in. It's just, it's all such a win-win win-win win-win

Cathryn (17:48):

So one question we've gotten a bunch is from people who are like "Oh, I love this journal, I love this idea of working on my relationship with my partner but it seems like I want to do it more than they want to do it." And they're just, they feel like they're forcing the other person to do it. What advice could you give to better communicate this idea to their partner without them feeling like, you know, they're forcing their partner or that it's like a favor to them.

Rachel (18:23):

So let's use the AEO framework again, the three steps Acknowledge, Explain, Offer. So this couple most likely has not done a lot of work relationship wise, right? If there's like this disconnect of one person wanting it, and one person's like eeehhh. So the acknowledgement statement could be "Hey honey, I know we've never done this kind of work before or I know we've done very little work around education, or around relationship education, and around how to communicate or how to talk about sex." Like you input whatever there, that's your acknowledgement. Then I feel, blank, your emotion. "I feel connected to you when we touch base every day and talk and continue to grow our relationship. I would really love to share this journal with you and go through this course. What do you think?" Right, so you're acknowledging the reality you're giving the, I feel when blank and then you're giving that baby step towards a solution. You're not saying "So what do you think about committing to 30 minutes every day of doing everything?" Right? It's like "What do you think about looking at this journal with me? Would you read the front page with me? How does that sound?" Like that could be the baby step.

Cathryn (19:54):

Oh, that's awesome! Great, well I think this is going to give people a lot of help with better communicating which is really the start of everything. So get started, get working on that. So I'll see you then.

New Speaker (20:07):

All right, that was a really great discussion and as you move into week 9 of your journal, try to remember what we said in this module. Communication is so very important but also you're not going to be very skillful at it if this is the first time you've ever worked on it. So just put the work into understanding how you communicate as a couple and what needs to be worked on and just integrate it into your week. I also want you to take the skills you learned from previous week's exercises about conflict, about empowered requests and apply them all because this is all a different tool for your tool belt in improving your communication. And as you do this, you will see your relationship on your intimacy grow and life is just easier when you're not dealing with that friction. So go get them and we will see you next week. Take care.