Relationship Advice Tips From Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Do you walk away from your partner when they start talking to you in ways that seem critical and condemnatory?
Maybe your partner does little things to deliberately annoy you while pretending to be angelic on the surface?
Couples communications issues – action or words? Which is most productive?
This style of communicating has a huge impact and cause big feelings, often leading to erruptions. Actions set out to send a big message of protest or of having power and control over your partner can be very useful when you don’t want to argue, or when it isn’t comfortable to let two different points of view coexist in the same space.
But there are some drawbacks – it avoids talking, discussing, exploring and understanding. Without words, there is no appreciation of each others intent, motive, hurt, anxiety, fear, expectation or desire. There is only protest, punishment, revenge, an attempt to be control, and one upmanship.
Lets take our couple Rachel and Byron again. You may remember from the first two videos and articles on couples communication issues that they have been married for some time and have young children. Rachel feels burdened with responsibility and Bryon feels scolded like a naughty child.
When Rachel began telling Byron that she didn’t approve of the way he let their daughter get away with not doing her homework, he left the dinner table and stormed off to his friends house. He knew that Rachel didn’t like his friend, so it was calculated to hurt her in two ways. First he was walking out and leaving her hanging. Secondly he was deliberatly going to be with someone she thought was a bad influence on him – another twist of the knife!
When he came back in the early hours of the morning, he slipped into bed and neither of them spoke about it the next day. But the air was thick with tension, hatred and rage. Rachel was angry that once again he avoided discussing his lax way of rearing their daughter. She was also furious that he refused to discuss the matter. In effect, he had successfully silenced her. The fact that he had gone to that awful couples house was even worse. She always knew when he went there, because his clothes reeked of booze and smoke – one reason she didn’t approve of his friends. They encouraged him to be irresponsible, when she was doing her best to get him in shape.
Couples Communication Issues – Acting Out Versus Talking
Byron’s withdrawal from Rachel was a form of communication known as acting out. He demonstrated by his actions that he was not interested in engaging with his wife about his parenting style and certainly not inclined to let her reprimand him. He pulled the rug from under her feet, feeling in control and superior in the process. Rachel was left frustrated, ineffective and inferior.
During the next few days the couple reverted to their “safe” talk of routine practical matters, but with pent up aggravated energy, turning to stress and extreme discomfort.
Having failed in her attempt to talk to Byron about parenting, and filled with vengeance, Rachel got home a couple of nights later without the drycleaning. She had agreed to pick up the drycleaning earlier that day when they were sorting out the days jobs. Miffed, Byron asked, “Why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t do it? I would have picked it up. I need my blue suit for a meeting tomorrow! It’s your fault that I am going to look like a second class citizen!”
Vindicated, Rachel ignored his whining and started the dinner preparation, putting on loud country music, knowing Byron hated it. His protestations to shut it off and discuss things with her were met with turning the volume up, washing salad leaves and boiling rice. Rachel had ‘walked out’ on her husband by deliberately doing (rather than speaking about) annoying things to communicate her wrath, treating him with malice. It was her turn to feel in control, superior and invulnerable.
This time Rachel acted out and Byron wanted to talk but was shut out. So both partners engage in this dance of acting out instead of talking to communicate their displeasure. Sometimes it’s to avoid being reprimanded or nagged, and other times its to get back at their partners for usurping the power with tactics such as ignoring one and other or walking away.
Couples Communication Issues -The cons of acting out
- The aim of acting out is to make a statement
- Acting out is a one way communication designed to get a reaction from your partner, rather than to be informed.
- It’s purpose is to prevent a two way communication.
- Acting out widens the gap between a couple making each one offensive and defensive.
- Acting out comes from deep insecurity and a lack of faith in your partner to ever care enough to take your needs and feelings into account.
- Acting out destroys the desire to connect and make the partnership prosper.
- Breakups and divorce are much more likely when members of a couple use acting out as a primary means of communication.
Couples Communication Issues -The pros of talking-listening
- The purpose of talking is to share both sets of feelings and make room for them to co-exist without upsetting the applecart in the relationship.
- Talking involves listening, taking in and processing your partner’s experience, melding it with yours and coming together with an “ours” – that implies an intent to connect.
- Talking-listening is based in a security and safety that comes from trust and a mutual belief in caring going both ways.
- Talking-listening puts words to powerful intense feelings, taking the sting out of them and making them easier to grapple with in the most basic of interactions that couples engage in.
- Talking-listening prioritizes the healthy interdependency between the couple to make the partnership stable, safe, secure and enduring.
Couples counseling for communication issues
Tracking their communication styles in my therapy office helped Byron and Rachel understand why they felt that they were not communicating and felt so tense. Practicing putting intense and often dangerous feelings into words in the safety of my therapy office gave them the confidence to begin trying it out when they hit rough spots. The signal they were invitied to watch for was that feeling of wanting to hurt their partner and or take revenge. Whenever those feelings surfaced pushing towards punishment and pain as a way to make their needs knowns, they were told to say it out loud, “right now I feel like walking out on you!” or ” I want to throw this food at you!” or ” I want to smash your phone so you can’t watch games and leave me hanging when I need you to help me with the grocery shopping!”
Putting your feelings into words acts as if you are doing the deed, but in a way that gets your message across and allows for a dialogue with resolution. So give it a go and upgrade your communication style.
copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2015
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Disclaimer: this video and article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond