Brace for fallout

In the past, I might have rushed in with a glut of techniques to help a couple like Michael and Gwen accomplish their stated goal of better communication. But over the years I've learned that working to improve marital communication is a lot like exploratory surgery: The risk of what might be exposed is fraught with peril. Couples need to brace for the potential fallout that better communication may bring before they recklessly plunge ahead with the scalpel.

Good communication involves both partners being aware of their own thoughts and feelings and expressing them in an open, clear way. When a person communicates effectively, there is congruence between their inner experience and their outward expression. However, even an increase in direct and consistent communication doesn't insure that a relationship will improve.

Let's take television's Cleaver family, for example. If Ward started to be more open with June, maybe he would finally tell her that he doesn't like her award-winning meatloaf or share the fact that he's still upset about her quitting her job last year. He might even confess that he just lost half of their savings by making a bad investment. If June risked better communication, she might reveal her dissatisfaction with their sex life, complain about Ward's low income or disclose the fact that his inebriated brother made a pass at her last Thanksgiving.

Partners conspire to restrict and filter their interactions because they sense the danger involved in expressing themselves more openly. Once this pact of limited communication is broken, the lid of Pandora's box can blast open.

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