So, imagine their surprise when I gently say: “Oh yes you do. But maybe what you are communicating is the cause of distress in this relationship. Maybe what you are communication is disconnection. And maybe we can together find out what this is all about”.
In fact, it is impossible to not communicate: we are always communicating something: even (and probably especially!) when we don’t say a word. Postures, facial expressions, eye contact, physical orientation in space, all “speak” volumes. And it’s usually these non-verbal clues which are picked up by our nervous systems; those are the messages which we respond to at a gut level.
I may at that point ask them to just notice how they sit in relation to another. (I have a small couch in my rooms, so that it’s almost impossible for two adult bodies to not touch when they sit side by side on it). And it is quite satisfying to see that shift: from being focused on the other person (and usually their shortcomings) to just noticing how much each communicates simply by how they are holding their own bodies in relation to one another: are they allowing physical contact, are they sitting as far apart as possible, do they hold their bodies in rigid poses even when touching? And to start becoming aware of how much it all says about how they feel in the moment.
Couples (or at least one of the two) are usually poised to start a long verbal rant of dissatisfaction and complaints and injuries, done to them by the other. So, to suddenly be alerted to what may be going on inside oneself, can be quite disconcerting. It’s not something that most of us know how to do. Some of us learn very early on in life how to not show and say how we feel, in order to preserve our attachment bond with our mother, or our primary caretaker. This results in a developing our default way of being in the world, and will translate into certain communication styles in our adult attachment relationship.
This change in focus can be the beginning of a different awareness in each of the partners: to start taking notice of what is going on inside themselves, within the relationship space. I don’t believe that relationship counselling can be effective without this shift.
Simply teaching verbal communication skills may help a little, but not before people are aware of what is really going on inside themselves, and what is evoked for them in a particular relationship dynamic. Then there is the possibility that they could learn to communicate that more effectively, and congruently.