Couples have incidents and issues that they need to work through. Each time an incident or issue is unresolved, it builds up. It’s like dropping rocks into a bucket. At some point, the bucket is going to overflow. Couples need to learn to work through their incidents or issues effectively.
Some couples escalate on small issues that blow up and become incidents. in these cases, couples need to learn the communication sequence that causes them to escalate—keeping in mind it only takes one or two statements to escalate. Couples counseling can be helpful if individuals are unable to figure out their roles in the pattern, especially if the trigger points are subtle.
For other couples, the issues are major themes, e.g., trust, parenting or finances. Couples dealing with major themes need to learn how to work through them. On occasion, couples come to me disappointed that they’re only going to work on their communication, saying their problems are so much deeper than communication. Although this may be true, the couple’s language needs to be respectful and responsive for them to have a chance to work through their themes.
In either case, words matter. If it’s a small issue, it’s the communication itself that creates the problem. If it’s a major theme, the language needs to be effective to give couples an opportunity to work through their issues.