In my practice I always teach my clients basic communication techniques and strategies. Validating feelings, being open and direct, active listening, taking responsibility for feelings without blaming your partner, etc. form the basics of good communication in all relationships. However, in the real world, with it’s inherent stresses and distractions, following good communication protocol is often challenging to execute in the moment. Under stress couples get mad at each other, they interrupt, they make each other “wrong,” they react irrationally, etc. In other words, even in the best relationships, communication is messy. No one that I know (including myself!) always follows good “communication protocol.” What I’ve noticed over the years is that happy couples have a way of “transcending” communication techniques and strategies. Instead of accepting a challenge for conflict and “taking the gloves off,” they choose to disarm their partner’s aggression and negativity.
I like to call this “Couples Aikido,” a relational form of the the Japanese non-violent martial art. The practice of Aikido focuses on re-directing and disarming one’s opponent’s aggression. There are no offensive moves in Aikido, it’s purely defensive.
Here’s a practical example from my own life. I come home after working with conflicted couples all day and I don’t realize that I’m probably a “little” stressed. My partner, Nicola, attempts to engage with me but I really don’t feel like talking much and I’d rather watch the hockey game. She detects some stress in my tone and says, “are you OK, you seem pretty edgy?” What do I do? I could respond with textbook-style “communication protocol” and say something like, “No I’m not! You’re mind reading right now and making a judgement of how I am. Speak for yourself and don’t assume you know what I’m feeling!” I may be theoretically justified to respond like this but in reality if I do, she’ll probably get her back up and feel hurt and rejected. Practicing couples aikido, I could say something like, “you’re right, I am probably edgy, I’ve had a stressful day and I’m sorry I took it out on you, let’s start over.”
Couples aikido practice requires that you disarm your partner’s aggression by finding some truth in what they are saying. No one is EVER 100% wrong; there’s always some validity in the other person’s experience and perception. By practicing this technique, a potential conflict can be graciously and lovingly averted. It also requires that you let go of your ego and tune into what your partner is saying. You must be open to the possibility that your partner is seeing something in you that you’re unaware of in the moment.
Try it out and see what happens! And…as always I welcome your comments!