Couples Counseling 101
Part 2: Communication Series
You’re always Communicating in Your Marriage
In Part 1 of this Couples Counseling series, we discussed that it is impossible for us not to communicate. Even when we are being silent or not directly speaking with someone, we might be communicating various things (I don’t want to talk to you, I need space, I am distracted right now, etc.). We also discussed how, at times, our words/verbal communication might not match our non-verbal communication such as tone, body language, and facial expressions. If we answer the question “Are you okay” with a reluctant “I’m fine” and a frown on our face, the person who asked us the question now must decide if they should follow what our words say or what our non-verbals say, leaving them with a confusing dilemma.
“Communication is punctuated” – Paul Watzlawick
This proposition is something I talk about with many of the couples I see and involves how we make meaning from our interactions with others. When you tell a story about a recent interaction with a friend, partner, or even stranger, you most likely tell it from your own perspective, in a way that puts emphasis on your own words and behaviors as reactions based on what was happening around you. For example, let’s say you were standing in line at McDonald’s and someone got in line in front of you. The line was moving slowly, so the person who got in front of you turned around to make small talk. Upset that the person cut in line, you ignore their attempts to start a conversation. You both proceed to make it through the line, grab your food, and head out the door.
When you get home, you are likely to tell this story from a place of unbelief at the audacity of this person to cut in front of you in line and then try to start a conversation. You ignoring their attempts to talk is a reaction of you being upset that they got in front of you in line. When the other person gets home, they are likely to tell this story from a lens of trying to be friendly by starting a conversation in which the “grumpy person” behind them was rude and ignored them. How could these stories be so different?
Perspective is Punctuation
First, it is likely that, in an example like this, the person who cut in line did not realize they even cut in line. This means you both are automatically telling the story from a different point of view, leading to the difference in punctuation as to where the story “starts.”
This happens in our more meaningful relationships, too. Have you ever discussed a hurtful interaction with your partner and found that you both have different ideas as to what happened? This is often the result of you each punctuating, or making meaning of, the series of events that lead to the hurt feelings from your own perspectives. In some instances, your partner may not even realize they hurt your feelings but noticed you becoming upset during the event. They may find themselves confused or reacting negatively to what they saw as your negativity happening first.
This week’s exercise in punctuating
This week, try to make a conscious effort to notice what your partner is punctuating. What sounds important to them about certain interactions, whether these are positive or negative interactions with you or others (coworkers, family, friends, strangers, etc.). Work towards gaining an understanding of how both of your punctuations are important and valid- maybe you can even try to put the punctuations together to make a more complete picture rather than each of you fighting what you believe the “true story” is!
About our Couples Counseling Therapist
Olivia Holt is a Couples Counseling Therapist at The Marriage and Family Clinic’s Westminster location. She believes that every couple has their own style of intimacy, communication, and connection. Her approach to therapy allows couples to uncover patterns that lead to difficulties in intimacy and communication while creating an open and accepting environment for each partner to be heard. Olivia Holt specializes in Couples Counseling in Westminster Colorado.