There seems to be an increased request for couples counselling recently. I wonder if one of the reasons is that over the past few years of isolation and lockdowns, we dimmed some of our “connectors” out of necessity and survival. When we experience missed attempts to connect, we shut down, which only perpetuates disconnection. When we are disconnected from ourselves, we tend to disconnect from those around us as well.
I often hear people say that they believe relationships break down because of “poor” communication skills. I am going to suggest that underneath of missed attempts to communicate are missed attempts to connect.
Dr. Brene Brown says that “connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued – when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship”.
One of the ways we can connect is by expressing and validating emotions or felt experiences. Here are some ideas for practicing emotional literacy in order to find paths of connection:
1. Connect with your emotion
There is research to support that when we name emotions, we feel relief. You’ll know you’ve found the right name when your body recognizes and connects with that emotion word. Emotions sheets can help with this. It can be helpful to peel back a few layers as there could be secondary emotions closest to the surface. For example, if I believe I am angry because I am picking up other people’s clothes off of the floor when the laundry basket is nearby, when I peel back a layer, I may actually be feeling hurt or dismissed.
2. Connect with your partner by sharing how you are feeling
Dr. John Gottman suggests that “emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other’s world”. Try using a WIN statement to share how you are feeling with your partner: When you… (insert fact /use non-judgemental language), I feel… (insert primary emotion as identified above), (I) Need… (share what you are looking for).
3. Connect with your partner by validating how they are feeling
Validate your own emotion as well as the other persons. Try using “AND” instead of “BUT” as this allows both statements to exist at the same time (“I know I hurt you BUT you hurt me first” vs. “I know you are hurt AND I am hurting too”). You can easily validate someone’s experience by repeating what they have said.
4. Reconnect through repair
Admit when there was a missed attempt to connect or hear each other’s emotions. Repair the missed attempt. Dr. Gottman provides a checklist of ideas for repair. https://www.gottman.com/blog/r-is-for-repair/
5. Connect with support
Counselling has helped many couples find paths of reconnection. It can be difficult to reach out and ask for help – yet this type of support can be such a valuable investment toward yourself and your relationship.
If you are interested in couples counselling or discussing any of these ideas further, feel free to connect with Katie at www.mainstreamtherapy.com, email@example.com, @katielamportcounselling or 705-717-2107. Consultations are available if you are curious to explore if this may a fit for you. Counselling is available in-person and virtually.