Couples often seek marriage counseling at a time when conflict is high, and communication is low. At this time, dysfunction becomes routine and couples find it difficult to be around each other without getting into an argument. Many falsely assume that dysfunction is what occurs when there is a problem or issue between two people, or a couple. Dr. Henry Cloud defines dysfunction as “when you make an attempt to communicate, you get farther away than when you started.”
High conflict couples experience true dysfunction when they attempt to communicate about one specific issue, and get further and further away from that one specific issue. Thus, they do not truly communicate about the issue. This leads to a lower level of satisfaction in the marriage as well as other issues forming within the relationship.
One area that couples often say is their biggest issue is communication and feeling as though their partner is not listening to them. This is because neither partner is truly listening to the other. Communicating and listening is about hearing what the other person is saying, and understanding. Most couples just say that they are listening to the other, but all they are really doing is thinking of a response while the other is talking. Communication and listening is active, meaning that both people have to be actively involved. The Prepare/Enrich program developed by Dr. David Olsen describes active listening as the following;
“Good communication depends on you carefully listening to another person. Active listening involves listening attentively without interruption and then restating what was heard. Acknowledge content AND the feelings of the speaker. The active listening process lets the sender know whether or not the message they sent was clearly understood by having the listener restate what they heard.”
The key to communication is actively listening to your partner and reflecting both the content of what they are saying, and the feelings they express. Seeking out marriage counseling with either a licensed mental health counselor, or a trained Prepare/Enrich facilitator can help you find the skills to better communication and conflict resolution. Here are some techniques that counselors often use:
An exercise that counselors and Prepare/Enrich facilitators use is the Speaker/Listener technique. One person is the Speaker, while the other is the Listener. The Speaker is allowed to use an assertive statement to get their point across. The Listener must not interrupt the Speaker, but listen and repeat back the feeling of the Speaker and the content of what the Speaker stated. The Speaker is then allowed to say that they were understood, or try the assertive statement again if the Listener was not correct in their assessment of feelings or content. Afterwards, the role is reversed.
Another exercise is a way to use ten steps to resolving conflict from the Prepare/Enrich program.
1.) Set a time and place to discuss the issue.
2.) Define the issue. Be very specific on what you will be discussing.
3.) List the ways each of you contribute to the problem. This should be done by you and how you contribute to the problem, not who you believe your partner contributes.
4.) List past attempts at trying to solve this issue.
5.) Brainstorm ideas on how you can resolve the issue. At this point, do not judge the answers that you come up with. Just brainstorm as many as you can think of. No answer is too silly.
6.) Discuss and evaluate each of the ideas you listed. Cross out the ones you feel you have used in the past and have not worked, or ones you feel are not as important as the others.
7.) Agree on one solution to try.
8.) Agree how on you will each work towards the solution.
9.) Set up another meeting to discuss your progress.
10.) Finally, reward each other for your progess.
These exercises and more can be found through the Prepare/Enrich program that is offered by trained facilitators.
Dr. Henry Cloud. (2011) Dysfunction defined (video). http://www.cloudtownsend.com/videoserver/video.php?clip=CCNT2325
Dr. David Olsen. (2008) Prepare enrich couple’s workbook. Life innovations, Inc. Minneapolis, MN.
For more information on working with a trained Prepare/Enrich therapist contact Renee Heldman @ 888-349-1116 x3.
~From Fear to Faith