The Biggest Communication Mistake Couples Make

It’s natural to have disagreements with your partner.  You are two different people, with two different perspectives and two different experiences.  The exact same situation can be experienced completely differently by two people.  Therefore, the data is going to differ.  When I watch couples go round and round in an argument, it’s usually because of one fatal communication flaw:  they are arguing about the data.  

Couples love to debate the data…and it’s the biggest communication mistake couples make.  I’ll let you in on a marriage counselor secret.  We don’t care about the data.  I mean sure, to an extent we do.  We need to know your history and your background, the history of the relationship and important events that happened.  But we don’t need the ins and outs of your side and your partner’s side of every issue.  It’s not that we don’t care what you have been through—far from it! We care very much.  We just know that the truth is not in the data.  It’s in the way the data impacts you that matters.  So we tend to ignore the data.

The urge is so strong in all of us to present our side and explain our perspective.  We can do everything short of creating a PowerPoint presentation with pie charts and bar graphs to illustrate our side of the issue.  We continue to prove our point by reaching way back into the marital archives to pull out events and circumstances from ten years ago to continue to prove our point.  What point our we trying to prove?  

That’s what I’m listening for as a marriage counselor.  I’m not tallying up the rights and wrongs.  I’m not sorting through all of the examples to figure out who is to blame.  I’m not figuring out who the culprit is so I can say “yes you are right! Your partner does sound pretty terrible. Let me see if I can ship him or her into shape!”  What I am doing is weeding through all the data to figure out—what does all of this data mean to you?

Usually the point you are trying to prove—the meaning of all of this for you, the underlying theme for all of the examples and data you are hurling at your partner— is you have felt in some way that you aren’t important, seen, heard or do not matter to your spouse.  You have felt in some way forgotten, ignored, rejected, overseen, or hurt by the person you care the most about.  

What to do?

First, ask yourself, what point are you trying to prove? That your spouse is lazy, forgetful, or worthless?  If that is your point, there are deeper issues in your marriage.  More likely, the issue at hand has a deeper meaning for you.  I recommend you take five to ten seconds to stop and figure out what the deeper meaning may be.  Are you mad because it feels like your aren’t a priority to your spouse?  Are you hurt because you wonder if your spouse still desires you?  Are you upset because you wonder if you matter as much to your spouse as their job, their phone, the kids?  Identifying the true meaning can really help you have more effective conversations.  It’s hard to communicate effectively when you don’t truly know the root cause of your distress.  Pause…breathe…reflect.

And if you must sort out the data with your partner, if you must recap the issue at hand with such precision and accuracy that you could create a documentary on the subject, follow-up the conversation (if your partner is still listening) with this final question:

Now that I’ve shared all the data, can I share what it means to me?  

ADD Version:

  • Debating the data is the biggest communication mistake couples can make.
  • Resolution to your problems with your spouse is rarely in the data.
  • First, pause to reflect on the deeper meaning of the problem for you.
  • It’s hard to communicate effectively when you don’t know the true cause of your distress.

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