By Linda G. Ritchie, Ph.D.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Stephen Covey
Nobody gets married with the idea that they will one day be getting a divorce. Divorce isn’t something that anyone looks forward to and it is never an enjoyable step to take. However, the fact is that divorce is one of the hallmarks of modern American society. There is research that indicates half of all marriages in this country eventually end in divorce.
Some common reasons that contribute to the high divorce rate in America are:
Lack of conflict resolution skills
Failed expectations or unmet needs
Additions and substance abuse
Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
While there are many reasons that may contribute to a couple deciding to divorce, poor communication and an inability to resolve conflict are inevitably a large part of the picture. Research has shown that using a structured communication format can be very helpful for couples to communicate in a more healthy and constructive way.In a structured communication format, one person is the designated talker, and the other the designated listener. Only one person speaks at a time, and the other person’s job is purely to listen; not just listen, but to listen with the intent to understand the other person’s perspective. Only when the first person is completely done talking does the other one begin to express what they have to say. The roles are then reversed. This is empathic communication.
Setting the stage for good communication to occur is important. It must be the right time and place for both you and your partner. The discussion will be blocked if either you or your partner are upset or distracted. Pick a time to talk when both of you are physically and emotionally available.
Take responsibility for what you are thinking and feeling by using “I” statements when expressing yourself. “I feel unheard” will be far better received and understood by your partner than “you never listen to me”.
When listening to your partner, listen without interruption and use active listening. Reflect back to him or her what you are hearing. Check to see if you have heard and understood correctly. Even if you don’t agree with what your partner is saying, pay attention and listen.
If you find that you have difficulty putting into practice this type of structured format, you may need help from a professional. Seeking the help of a qualified relationship therapist may be very helpful and facilitate you and your partner developing the communication skills that are necessary to keep your relationship flourishing.