There is something of a joke amongst marriage and relationship therapists. Everyone we meet, regardless of what is going on in their marriage, just needs to improve their communication.
Domestic Violence? Just help us improve our communication.
Infidelity? Just help us improve our communication.
Financial Issues? Just help us improve our communication.
Criminal Enterprise? Just help us improve our communication
There is screaming and name-calling. There is usually vitriol and cursing. There are statements about mamma and poppa.
Incidents from years ago are unleased from the elephant-like memory room in someone's brain.
Silence might settle in like a heart-pounding fog for hours or even days.
Wait. Doesn't this mean that they do need to improve their relationship?
At this point, a lot of people tend to think I'm disproving my point. All of these things point to lousy communication, right?
None of those things happened because the person doing them thought they were the right thing to happen.
Not one of the people calling names thought that calling names was the right thing to do. In fact, while all of them probably could add to their toolbox of communication, in almost every case they were ignoring and failing to utilize the tools they already had in the toolbox.
They need to improve their emotional regulation. What they actually need to improve is their emotional regulation, which is actually a misnomer in my opinion.
Emotional regulation allows a person to be angry, upset, or experiencing any emotion and still act in an appropriate manner.
Emotional regulation regulates the somatic expression of emotions. It is regulating your actions in times of stress, which is what most couples need to develop.
You see, any therapist can teach a couple better communication skills but if the couple learning the skills lacks the ability to regulate their behaviors during times of distress it doesn't really matter what skills they have.
Part of this is on our brain. Over time we develop habits that feel like they are serving us well, but in reality, we are hurting our efforts to be healthy. Regardless of that, we need to do what is necessary to act appropriately in times of distress.
Being angry is often a chemical response to distress. There is little to nothing we can do about that in the moment. The key to good communication is to make our words match when we are calm or angry. In the above illustrations, no one did what they did or said what they said because they thought it was the right thing to do. Rather, they did what they did because they didn't care about right or wrong.
If you think you need to improve your communication, you may be right but it is more likely that you need to practice your emotional regulation.
It's OK to be angry. It's OK to feel hurt. It's OK to be scared.
It's not OK to act in a hurtful way toward someone else because you are feeling any of those emotions.
If you'd like to watch a short video on emotional regulation, I have included one below.
Our words and actions need to build each other up, even in times of distress.