A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of mothers. I was invited to speak in my role as a marriage and relationship therapist. Excited to have this opportunity to give back to the community, I spent several hours preparing a talk on communication. As a couples therapist, it is my experience that couples go into marriage counselling with communication as the number one concern.
After creating my presentation, I suddenly had some doubts. Are these women even interested in communication? I decided to hand out cards for each woman to write a question on, so that I could tailor my discussion to what they were interested in. The results? All but one question fit into one of two categories: Communication, and sex.
The questions on communication followed along the lines of: How can I get my partner to listen to me? What do you do when even small issues turn into big fights? My partner goes silent when I want to talk about a concern, how can I get him to take part in the conversation?
What followed was a great discussion on communicating within relationships. The questions mirrored the themes I see in couples counselling all the time. So often one person is more likely to bring up concerns (sometimes called the pursuer) while the other partner is more likely to avoid conflict or let things slide (sometimes called the withdrawer). The result is a dance between the couple: The more one partner pursues, the more the other partner withdraws. And the more one partner withdraws, the more the other partner pursues.
When I work with couples that have this dynamic in their relationship, I help them find a way to help each other out of this cycle. The pursuer is desperately trying to make sure the relationship is ok, while the withdrawer is trying to do the same thing by avoiding conflict. The good news is that couples counselling can help partners learn a new way of communicating and connecting.