Archive for Communication

Mistakes in communication, memory and perception

Earlier this month I was approached by Katie O’Malley to give some comments for an article she was writing for Elle Magazine online about how to be how to be happy in love. Read here As part of the brief Katie sent me a Ted Talk by Stan Tatkin, which I found really interesting.

Stan Tatkin is a developer of a psychobiological approach to couple therapy. He describes in a very accessible way something that at Coupleworks we come across all the time in our work with clients. He talks about how, when we come to a new relationship, we also come with unresolved hurts from past relationships that have become imprinted in our brains and form part of our ‘procedural memory’.

When we first start a relationship everything is new and exciting. However as things get ‘serious’ and time passes, we begin to take each other for granted and stop paying attention to each other. The brain then begins to work on automatic – ‘procedural memory’ takes over and it reverts to old patterns of learnt behaviour. For example we may believe that we are responding to our partner in a particular way, but in fact our pattern of response is dictated by our procedural memory forged by a previous relationship with a betraying abandoning person.

Tatkin says ‘we all make mistakes in communication, memory and perception’. Likewise in therapy I often encourage my clients to pay attention to each other and not to assume that they know their partner. The key thing is to be curious and interested in them for themselves and not to allow our procedural memories to dictate our responses.

One of the last points Tatkin makes in his 10-minute talk is the fact that as humans we can’t survive the loss of safety and security. He argues that one of the benefits from being in a relationship is to ‘have each other’s backs’. To be a couple involves protecting each other and to make each other feel safe and secure. Sadly this is one of the things that so often gets lost for a couple as things break down in their relationship. It can become more and more about fighting for each one’s own survival and the closeness suffers as a result. In maintaining and restoring relationships it is vital to ‘have each other’s backs’ – to care for and show our partner that we love them.

Interestingly a recent survey in a women’s’ magazine asked the question ‘What is the most important quality to look for in a partner?’ Much to many people’s surprise 94% replied kindness (5% humour and 1% good looks). Thinking of Stan Tatkin’s Ted Talk it struck me that he is talking about a similar thing.

Our relationships will be healthier and we will remain closer and more connected to our partners if we make the choice to pay each other attention, and secondly to be kind and caring.

Sarah Fletcher

Couples: Communication and Conversation

Coupleworks’ counsellors frequently meet couples desperate to improve their communication – and often start by asking about the beginning of the relationship.

‘You’re My World’ Cilla Black


The time of falling in love can be marked by fascinated curiosity, rapt attention, delving into inner worlds and gazing into one another’s eyes. It can feel like the discovery of a best friend and soul mate and taking the couple back to the memory of when they experienced such closeness can reignite hope.

‘Where Are You Now…?’ Justin Bieber


However, later down the line, busy lives can mean conversation is brief, occurring in snatched moments, and focussed on practicalities. Each can lose sight of the other’s dreams, desires and longings. More light-hearted moments of warmth, laughter and sharing can often take place with friends and colleagues and not with each other. The relationship can become irritable, joyless and serious – weighed down by pressure at work, decisions about running the home, parenting, finances, aged parents. Feeling stressed and overwhelmed, a sense of being alone, unsupported and short-changed – can create an atmosphere of complaint and criticism.

‘Mind the gap…’ Nabiha


Parallel lives can mean moments of intimacy grow fewer. In his book ‘The Relationship Cure’ John Gottman says that reconnection and repair lies not in the grand gesture but in the ‘turning-towards micro-moments’ that indicate how you are seen, valued, loved and cared for. Couples constantly reach out and make bids to one another for affection, attention and support but they are sometimes misunderstood and misread as demands. Gottman describes how each partner has a ‘sliding-door’ moment in how they choose to respond: to rebuff, turn away or draw closer. The squeeze at the dishwasher, the wink across a crowded room, the pause for a longer hug at the door, sharing the preparation for dinner, the back rub, switching off all screens when eating – all mean ‘You are special’. But these can be rejected with a shrug of annoyance or received with appreciation and a smile.

‘Love Hurts…’ Nazareth


If the love bank is depleted or empty there is nothing to call on when times are tough and the disappointment in each other can feel sharp and result in flashpoints of anger and blame.

‘Working my way back to you…’ Four Seasons


Consequently, the couple’s emotional reserve requires constant topping up. The positive ways in which the mundane tasks, the work of daily grind and tedium, are managed allows caring and intimacy to establish itself once more. What might appear to be insignificant moments of consideration and connection can quickly add up to an environment of safety, relaxation and warmth. Mistrust and defensive interactions dissipate and love expands.

‘Talk To Me…’ Stevie Nicks


Gottman suggests creating a regular, twenty minute, DAILY, couple conversation time that is prioritised above all else. It should be a time for connection, focused listening, not interrupting, checking out, reflection, going deeper. It can be reparative after an argument and generally replenishing for the relationship. It can guard against the thread that connects the couple becoming too thin and stretched – possibly to breaking point.

Kathy Rees

A question of communication.

When I was watching the ‘A word’ on TV the other night I was struck by one particular interchange. As it happened it had nothing to do with autism but it did have a great deal to do with communication (or rather, non-communication). The mother of the young boy appeared to be asking for her brother-in-law’s opinion on whether they should get a second opinion about her son’s condition. But she wasn’t actually asking, as he was quick to point out – rather she was telling him what she had already decided but wanted his affirmation of her decision.

All of which set me thinking. How often do all of us seem to be asking something when in fact we are just using the form of a question to tell a person what we have decided in any case. Most of the time that doesn’t cause much of a problem between couples but at other times it can result in irritation – or worse.

Here at Coupleworks we know very well how important good communication is for any partnership. And really good communication requires each person to be open about what they are saying and to give the space to their partner to agree or disagree with them.

‘Where shall we go this Christmas? Your family or mine?’ Can be a genuinely open ended question, or it may be said in such a way that only one answer is, in effect, being allowed. If that sort of non-question continues time and again then the net result will be to make a person feel that they are being treated as though their opinion does not matter, and that they are being continuously belittled.

So what is the answer?

1. Learn to ask genuine questions.
2. If you have a preference then be open and honest about it. Check with yourself whether you are really asking for an opinion or whether you are hoping that your partner will agree with you.
3. Listen to your partner and encourage them to be honest too.
4. Don’t be afraid of disagreement or difference – such things lie at the centre of any healthy relationship.
5. When you catch yourself asking a non-question (or when it’s pointed out that that’s what you are doing) don’t be afraid to acknowledge it- and to laugh at yourself.

Clear, honest and accurate communication is essential to healthy relationships.

Sarah Fletcher