Communication 101

I had my first session with a young, engaged couple last week.  Steve and Mary have been together for 7 years and have hit a major roadblock, and they’re not even married yet.   Steve entered his family business about a year ago and hired Mary as an employee.  They both thought it was going to be wonderful to work together but it turned out the complete opposite; they were constantly at each others throats, Steve’s family did not like Mary’s attitude at work and Steve found himself caught in the middle between Mary and his family.  By the time they came to see me, neither Steve nor Mary were working at the family business anymore and they both blamed each other.  Their relationship was heading south fast.

They came to me for counseling  because there was a lot of hurt; they had been verbally assaulting one another for a while and the pain they both felt was clear.   The two of them couldn’t even carry-on a conversation without it turning into an all-out argument.  It happened right in front of me.

During the first session I did a lot of evaluating, not necessarily on the words they were saying to one another  but what their body language was saying.  I could see the anger and frustration written all over both of them.  Neither one knew how to listen to what the other had to say.  It was a vicious cycle.

I gave them a homework assignment for the week.  I instructed them to take 15 minutes every night and sit down and look at one another without saying a word.  I basically wanted them to feel the other persons pain and frustration, which is impossible to do once words get in the way because at that point we only feel our own negative energy.  When Steve and Mary came back for their next session I was anxious to see how the 15 minutes of silent communication went.  They did the exercise a few times but were unable to do it every night.  They said it was actually nice to sit down with each other and not argue.  Mission accomplished.  Baby steps!

This weeks exercise:  I’m having Steve and Mary sit down for the same 15 minutes but this time I instructed them to express to the other what is on their mind and how they’re feeling.  Here’s the kicker—the other person is not allowed to respond no matter what.  This is going to be a big challenge for them but the key is for both of them to start understanding the art of “listening” and at the same time start breaking down their walls of defensiveness.  The moral of this story:  If you are in a relationship, take a step back and actually hear what the other person has to stay and keep your two-cents to yourself.  In other words, learn how to swallow your pride.  It saves a lot of relationships.  We’ll see how it goes with Steve and Mary.