Lauren and Anthony generally have a great relationship. They love each other deeply but struggle with communication. Their challenge is that communication difficulties are subtle, and the aftereffects can last for days.

In our last couples counseling session, they processed their most recent conflict. Lauren shared that she wants to be listened to. I noticed that Lauren took long pauses between her contrasting thoughts, but Anthony was doing a nice job of not interrupting. In addition to Anthony’s not listening, she also shared that when he responded, his tone was high. This reflected his emotionally reacting to Lauren’s comments rather than being responsive—perhaps he was rehearsing a response rather than truly listening. 

When Lauren finished, he reacted defensively by saying, “I do listen.” Without intervention, this would likely result in a loop of “No you don’t.” “Yes I do.” Instead, I encouraged Anthony to respond differently. I suggested saying, “I want to listen.” which reflected his intent. An even better response would be “I will listen.” which reflects his determination to do better.

Anthony also gave feedback to Lauren. When they squabbled, Lauren would often respond with “We’re not growing.” Anthony would often react to this criticism of the relationship. Instead, I suggested that Lauren say, “I want us to grow more.” Rather than talking in the past tense of what wasn’t happening—we’re not growing—Lauren would be more successful using the future tense of what she wanted—a growing relationship. Lots of subtleties for them to listen for.