by Nevin G. Alderman, MA, CMHC
In all our research, the most common reason couples pursue couples counseling is communication issues. While communication seems to be the primary issue causing problems, there is generally a deeper issue at play that often goes unaddressed. Because of this, couples can spend significant time and money focused on a symptom of the problem, rather than the root of the problem. Let me explain.
Let’s say a couple is having disagreement about the way they divide household responsibilities. No matter how much they discuss the issue, and no matter the various strategies the couple uses to resolve the issue, time and time again conflict erupts and relational injuries occur. While these communication issues might seem to have originated around dishes, rarely is that one issue the source of all their concern. As couples consider their communication problems, they begin to realize that communication break-downs are becoming an epidemic: How often to visit the in-laws, how we spend our money, our sex life, our approach to parenting, our pursuit of hobbies or interests, and so forth. All of these areas seem to be wrought with conflict and relational injury. The couple just can’t seem to get on the same page.
A majority of the time, when couples think they are experiencing a communication issue, what they are really experiencing is a perception issue. You see, in relationships, things like a concern about dishes can easily become a concern about my perception of your love for me. When this occurs, while who will do the dishes remains a point of disagreement, more devastating than that is what the dishes have begun to represent to me. Things like, “You don’t love me,” “you don’t respect me,” “you don’t value me,” and so forth. The devastation of this perception is much deeper than who will do the dishes, which means there is a lot more riding on our conversation about dishes than either partner realized. However, this perception issue often doesn’t end there. At its most destructive levels, this perception issue can begin to be internalized by one or both partners into a self-message that is used to conclude meaning about themselves and the world around them. An example is when the perception that, “you don’t love me” becomes “I am unlovable.” When this occurs, the disagreement about things like dishes, in-laws, intimacy, or parenting reaches a whole new level of devastation. With the emotional weight of my lovability riding on our everyday communication, it doesn’t take long before perceived relational injuries become too painful to endure. It is in this manner that couples arrive at the hopeless resolution that they must not be compatible, with their best explanation for why they are experiencing so much difficulty being “communication issues”.
Every day, thousands of couples will end their relationship because they just can’t seem to fix their communication problems. Thankfully, there is hope! Communication issues can be worked through, and healing begins with the understanding of the principles we’ve just reviewed. As couples recognize their destructive self-messages, and understand more clearly their misperceptions, their ability to communicate about every-day decisions and difficulties becomes much easier. Opportunities for closeness and connection increase, deeper levels of understanding are achieved, and greater levels of fulfillment are attained.
Nevin G. Alderman is the Owner and Clinical Director of Renew Relationship Counseling; a therapeutic clinic that specializes in relationship-focused services. Nevin holds a Masters Degree in Mental Health Counseling, and has been providing therapeutic services to couples, individuals, and families for over 10 years. For more information, visit: www.RenewRelationshipCounseling.com
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