Clients and Success In Therapy
Clear Communication: #1

This is the second in a series of topics on communication.
Refer back to topic #1 if you need to.

  • Have a purpose, and remember it.
  • Remember the topic, notice when it starts to change, and go back to it.
  • Be ready to cooperate – so both people get what they want.
  • If the conversation is going poorly, talk about the way the communication is going.
  • Don’t talk down to or up to the other person.

We are still using the same couple for our examples.
And remember that these principles apply to all communication.


When the other person is talking down to you or implying superiority,
you can avoid arguing by responding with pure logic:

He: “Let’s go for a ride today.”
She: “Why don’t you ever want to stay home with me!?”
He: “I want to stay home with you often. Just not today.”

If he would have responded to the attack instead,
he might have escalated the anger with statements like:
“I’d stay home more if you weren’t so grouchy all the time!
“Why are you always picking on me?”

Or, another even worse way of responding to the attack
would be to “join” her by being self-demeaning:
“I know, I always disappoint you. I’m just a bad husband, I guess.”
]This one is a favorite of alcoholics and other drug abusers.
It’s usually used the morning after a binge.]

The key to deflecting attacks is to say
how true or untrue the other person’s statement is
– and to do it in a rational way
that does not reflect poorly on either person.


He could clarify what he wants with:
” I only want to be gone a couple hours.”
“I want to check out the stereos as the mall.”
“I’d rather go with you, but I could go alone too.”

He could ask her to clarify what she wants with:
“What do you want to do if we stay home?”
“We could stop at a restaurant on the way if you like.”
“So you want to stay home by yourself or with me?”


Most disagreements don’t create big feelings,
but there are always some feelings, big or small, behind each person’s wants.

Feelings tell us how little or how much we want what we are talking about.
Talking about them leads to quicker and longer lasting resolutions.

After he says: “Let’s go for a ride today” she might say:

  • “You seem so excited about going for a ride. Why?”
  • “Well I really want to stay home and I’d be pretty angry if we didn’t get some time together today.”
  • “How would you feel about staying home and playing around instead?”

In these examples she is either
asking about the strength of his feelings
or telling him about the strength of hers.

We need to find out about
and value
each person’s feelings
to solve problems together.


If the communication seems confused,
it’s usually because people are defining words differently.
When she says “stay home” he might think “be bored and stare at the tube.”
When he says, “go for a drive” she might think of driving aimlessly.

Statements like these can help a lot:

  • “What do you mean by ‘go for a drive’? Where would we go? How far? What would we do?”
  • “What do you mean by ‘stay at home’? All day? While we work around the house?”

This is one of the most powerful things I know about,
and it is also one of the most difficult things to do.

We all need to confront other people about their behavior sometimes,
and we all instinctively know that
if we could do it kindly it would go much better.

But being supportive when you need to confront someone means that
you need to get good at using your anger and frustration wisely
and resisting the temptation to get more immediate relief.

Watch children having temper tantrums.
Notice that the natural thing they do is simply let it all out
and try to get relief immediately.

As we get older and our needs get more complex,
using our anger wisely and in appropriate doses works far better.

For instance:
He could have confronted her without support by saying:
“Why do you have to want the opposite of what I want!?”

Or he could have more strongly gone for what he wanted
while supporting her by saying:
“It’d be good to stay at home with you,
but let’s do it after we see about that new stereo I want.”

In order to do this well, however,
he would have to REALLY care about her and what she wants!
Faking it would not only fail today,
it would cause huge new problems.

By the way, learning how to really care isn’t about communication at all.
It’s about maturity, and commitment, and self-love, and loving others.
And each of these is covered by other topics in this series…

Read on…

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