An issue that comes up often in counseling is communication. Misunderstandings and misperceptions, without checking for accuracy, can quickly cause a minor disagreement to escalate to a full-blown argument. To further cloud things, very often one partner or the other will make assumptions about how their partner will react and proceed as if this assumption is correct, without checking or giving their partner a chance to rise to the occasion and learn new behaviors.
One way to change this pattern is to slow things down. Reflective listening, a communication tool, can help this happen. The basic idea is for one person to make an “I” statement (not accusing the other, but talking about how a particular action affects them). The partners talk to each other, not at each other, maintaining eye contact as much as possible. The other person listens to the statement and paraphrases it back, then asks if they’ve understood correctly. If they haven’t gotten it right, the first person corrects their error, the second paraphrases, until the first feels they’ve gotten it. The second person doesn’t need to agree with the statement, but they do need to show they’ve heard it and can validate how that might make the first person feel. They can then respond using the same technique.
This may feel really awkward at first, but the key is to remember what the overall goal is: to slow communication down, reduce the amount of misunderstandings that can happen when emotions enter into the equation, and most of all, for each partner to feel heard. Believing one is heard and understood by one’s partner helps maintain a feeling of connectedness.