Relationships and Courageous Conversation: Does It Need to Be Said?
People ask me all the time what I do as a couples therapist. In its simplest form, I basically work to help people learn how to talk to each other and communicate effectively. A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post all about Boundaries and Teaching People How to Treat You. Healthy boundaries are so important in relationships, and the blog led to a number of questions about the best ways to communicate about boundaries and other topics in relationships. I decided to start a series all about Relationships and how to have Courageous Conversation. Last week, I discussed Active Listening and I gave some examples of how to implement Active Listening into your relationship conversations. This week I’m going to be discussing Relationships and Courageous Conversation and ways to use what I call my Relationship Checklist.
You never know when, where and how inspiration will strike. When I was early in my career as a couples therapist, one night I was watching a comedy special by Craig Ferguson. It was his special called Does it Need to Be Said, and he was talking about things he had learned in his 3 marriages. He said he had learned a few things about communication that he wanted to share with the audience.
There are 3 questions you need to ask yourself when communicating with your significant other. Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said now? Does it need to be said by me? It was one of those “light bulb” moments for me, and I had to pause the TV to write down those 3 questions. The simplistic brilliance was something I knew I had to incorporate into my practice. It ultimately became what I call my Relationship Checklist, and I have seen it help so many people.
The very next day, I was working with a couple that was struggling to stop fighting over who was going to take the trash out, and his questions popped in my mind. I shared this Relationship Checklist with them, and I asked if they ever stopped and thought about their process of communication. I asked them to ponder those 3 questions.
One of my goals as a therapist is to help people slow their reactions down and think about how they want to respond to situations. As I shared the relationship checklist with them, I could tell I was on to something. They came back the next week, and things were improving in their communication with each other.
Thanks to one of my favorite comedians, I had figured out a way to get couples to stop and think before they speak! So I kept implementing this Relationship Checklist with the couples I was working with in therapy, and it was continuing to help people learn to slow their reactions down so they could respond more thoughtfully to their partners. It has been almost 10 years since I implemented this relationship checklist into my practice, and I have yet to have it not be helpful.
I wonder how this Relationship Checklist could help in your relationships? So often, we feel annoyed or frustrated or angry, and we react to our significant other in ways that may not be so helpful. I would like to take a minute to look at each of the questions on the relationship checklist, so you can understand a bit more about why it is so effective for improving communication dynamics in relationships.
Sidenote, I really hope I can meet Craig Ferguson one day to tell him just how helpful this piece of comedy has been for my clients as well as for my own life.
Does it need to be said?
How often do you say things without thinking about whether or not it even needs to be said? I’ll give you an example of what I mean. I was working with a couple a few years back that was always arguing about where to park when they would go somewhere. He would pull into the first parking spot he could find, and be done with it. Without fail, as they would be walking into where they were going, she would point out all of the other spots that were closer to the entrance.
Yes, there were closer spots, but did that really need to be said? I asked her to think about why she was always pointing this out to him, as it always led to an argument. It took a little while to figure it out, but ultimately she was able to articulate that it felt like he was not being considerate to her by parking further away than necessary and making her walk a longer distance. Rather than passive aggressively pointing out the closer parking spots, she really needed to be communicating her feelings using and “I-statement”. If you don’t know what I mean by an “I-statement”, I would suggest you go back and read about the importance of “I-statements” from last week’s post. They are very effective in helping change the communication dynamic in relationships.
Does it need to be said now?
Just because you think of something that needs to be said, does that automatically mean it should be spoken the moment you think it? Another example from my practice comes to mind. A couple I was working with kept arguing over household chores, and resentment was building. One night they came in to session, and she said, “I’m just so sick of not being appreciated for all the hard work I do around the house.” With a bit of digging we were able to figure out why these feelings of not being appreciated were coming up so frequently.
When he would get home from work, she was hoping he would notice the clean dishes or laundry that was put away. Instead, he would start asking about the things she didn’t get to on the to-do list yet. His intention was not to make her feel unappreciated, but that was exactly how she was feeling. By having him stop and think about what he was going to say, it allowed him to determine what need to be communicated immediately and what could wait until later. In fact, by just changing his approach to first focus on what had been accomplished, she started to feel like he was seeing her efforts. After the grateful response for what has been accomplished, it was much easier for them to discuss what had not yet been accomplished without feeling like that was all that was being noticed.
Does it need to be said by me?
Maybe you have determined that something needs to be said, but the next step is to evaluate if it actually needs to be said by you or not. I worked with a couple that approached time management quite differently. She was always running late, and he was always early. It got to where every morning while getting ready for work, they would get into a fight. She felt like he was micromanaging her process of getting ready, and she felt like it was actually making her later than usual because of the added stress.
When I asked why he was so involved in her morning activities, he said, “because I don’t want her to be late for work and get in trouble at her job…” This made a lot of sense to me, and she understood he was trying to help. However, in this instance, he was not the one who needed to be saying these things to her. He agreed to let her process be her own, and he took a step back from trying to manage her time for her. Just a few weeks after they figured out a way to change this element of their communication, her boss approached her one morning to talk about her punctuality. She came in for an individual therapy session to discuss how to get better about being on time. By her husband taking a step back, some natural consequences occurred in her workplace, and she took over the process of managing her time better.
I really do feel so grateful to Craig Ferguson for being so real, authentic and vulnerable in his comedy special, because it gave me a fantastic Relationship Checklist that has become invaluable to my work with couples and relationships in my therapy practice. I hope you can start to implement this checklist into your relationships, as I have seen it be so instrumental in diffusing so many disagreements and communication struggles.
If you are interested in setting up an appointment for therapy, life coaching, or consulting or if you would like more information about ways to develop healthy courageous conversations in your life and relationships, you can call my office directly at 314-485-9189 or feel free to send me a message. My direct email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more life and relationship tips!
A reminder if you are local to the St. Louis area and interested in attending my monthly Therapy Thoughts Workshops, the next one will be on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 from 7:30pm-8:30pm. It will at the The Bike Stop Cafe in St. Charles and we will be discussing Sex and Relationships. No questions are off limits, and I look forward to a great discussion. The cost is $5 to get in, and this gets you $2 off any drink of your choice as well as entry into the attendance raffle drawings. I hope to see you there!
My Therapy Thoughts podcast will be re-launching next month. We met earlier this week to finalize a few more details, and it will be available in both audio and visual formats. I am looking forward to having this up and running again, and I’ll have more information as we get closer to the re-launch. Make sure you are following my social media platforms and make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel, so you will be able to watch all the episodes!