My partner and I need to brush up on our communication skills– we just end up talking past one another without really listening. Instead of coming to an agreement each of us ends up feeling unheard and unimportant. It’s like we need the UN to help us solve disagreements! Do you think short-term, skill-focused couples therapy in Bethesda, MD could help?
Couples therapy in our Bethesda, MD practice is often short-term and skill-focused, and yes! Couples therapy can help.
The skill you’re looking for is to postpone persuasion. This skill was conceptualized by Anatol Rapoport, a mathematical psychologist. He wrote extensively about the best ways to resolve international conflict between two warring nations (and what couple doesn’t sometimes feel like they need the UN to help solve problems!). The idea is to “postpone persuasion until each person can summarize the partner’s position to the partner’s satisfaction.”
But first, a short lesson on the difference between communication skills and conflict resolution skills. This is actually something I explain to most of my Bethesda, MD couples therapy clients: there is a difference!
Communication is about the speaker’s message being received by the listener–just received. Good communication skills enable both partners to feel heard, understood, accepted. It’s not about agreement, counter-arguments, or reading between the lines.
On the other hand, conflict resolution skills lead to making a decision, choosing an outcome, giving an answer. Good conflict resolution skills include negotiation and compromise. Conflict resolution skills without a foundation of communication skills lead to situations like yours, where neither partner feels understood.
Okay, so back to the skill I mentioned at the beginning–to postpone persuasion. It’s a helpful way to think about why to prioritize effective communication before moving on to conflict resolution.
The goal of this skill is not to come to agreement or hash out your disagreement, but rather to emphatically reflect your partner’s point of view. When you postpone persuasion, you actually use a three part skill:
- Reflective listening to assure understanding (simply summarize what you just heard without twisting it, no agreeing or disagreeing)
- Open-ended questions to dig deeper (What makes this issue important to you? Can you help me understand where you’re coming from?)
- Assume similarity (take on a teamwork state of mind, instead of “you’re getting really worked up!” say “I think we’re both getting heated because we really care about this issue”)
When you’re able to postpone persuasion–by speaking and listening with understanding and a teamwork state of mind–you’ll enter the conflict resolution phase of finding a compromise or decision from a place of respect and validation.
(Stay tuned for how short-term, skill-focused couples therapy can help with conflict resolution skills in a future blog post!)
Do you or a couple you know need to improve your communication skills and conflict resolution skills, like how to postpone persuasion? Short-term, skill-focused couples therapy can help! Call our top Bethesda, MD couples therapists today.