Communication and Conflict

I often work with couples and families. One major issue is the way people talk to each other. The choice of responses sets up conflict before either party knows what happened.   Let me give you an example with Joe and Jane.  Joe attempts to address a behavior in Jane that bothers him. Jane responds with some thing like, “What about you?” or “You do it too” or “I don’t do it that much.” In first two instances, the behavior that Joe was trying to address has been ignored and the subject has been changed from Jane back to Joe. In the last instance, the subject has been changed to how much the behavior occurs rather than how it effects Joe. This is infuriating to Joe who is trying to make a point because the issue Joe was trying to address never gets resolved when the subject gets changed. Ongoing conflict around unresolved issues ensues and Joe continually brings up these issues because they are never resolved. Jane becomes angry because Joe has a memory like a computer and can never move on. He is stuck in the past with a backlog of unresolved feeling and issues.

Another problem is the use of global labeling. Global labeling is the use of terms like “always,” never,” everyone,” “no one.” For example, Jane tells Joe, “you always bring up the past.” or “you never help around the house.” Joe feels unappreciated for the times he has attempted to stay in the present and for the times he has helped around the house. Joe’s response is to bring up the past to defend himself. It’s a vicious cycle.

The argument that, “everyone we know is (doing something)” or “no one else (does that or thinks that way) can also cause anger. If Joe is talking to Jane about something he wants or needs, not only is the subject changed to other people but it can be experienced as quite critical that Joe is not like everyone else.

There are many more examples of errors in communication. For the most part, I would say that people know not what they do, only that they have trouble communicating without fighting or distancing. Counseling can help people see the patterns and practice correcting them.