5 Reasons why Simply Learning Communication Skills Won’t Help

When couples want to set up an appointment for relationship counseling, communication struggles are almost always included as one of their (sometimes numerous) problems. They typically point to an area of conflict around finances, parenting, or sex life. But they inevitably share how their communication needs dramatic improvement. They also often mention the need to learn better communication tools. Many clients, unfortunately, believe that if they simply acquire some additional skills then, presto, their relationship is fixed!  

I wish this was the case. Unfortunately, they usually need more than just improving their communication skills. Don’t get me wrong, being able to communicate with your partner is a necessary part of any relationship, yet much more is needed. There are several reasons why learning communication skills alone are not enough.

Reason #1:  Lack of Respect and Trust

When teaching couples the basics of communication, it is necessary to first start with showing respect and curiosity for your partner. Remember, respecting your partner is crucial to the success of any relationship. Curiosity comes into play because being curious means being truly interested in your partner’s perception.  This means that you sincerely care and truly want to understand their thoughts, ideas, and their perspective. Even when you disagree with them. By simply holding a respectful and curious stance towards your partner you have established a healthy foundation necessary to communicate effectively and resolve a conflict. Still, other obstacles can arise that impede healthy communication.

Reason #2:  Anger

One obvious stumbling block to maintaining a relationship based on respect is anger.   Unfortunately, most of the couples I have worked with include at least one partner who struggles to manage their anger. Not surprisingly, when this happens, respect goes out the window. It is important to note that anger is a universal human emotion. However, it becomes problematic when we are not able to manage it effectively and it takes on a life of its own. This unmanaged anger can cause significant damage to a relationship.

Reason #3:  Impulsivity and Lack of Mindfulness

Lashing out in anger is damaging to relationships. When it happens, respect flies out the window and we don’t care about our partner in that moment. Instead, we only care about getting our point across in order to “win” the argument. However, when we do get angry we have the ability to recognize our emotional state. We can choose not to engage with our partner at that time.  This awareness is enormously helpful and allows us to avoid interacting and causing an argument. Many of us are not born with this essential skill of awareness or mindfulness. The good news is that it can be improved with effort and focus.

Reason #4:  Can’t Calm Down

Just because we know in the moment that we are getting upset doesn’t mean we know how to calm down. When we get angry, our heart rate increases and we are not able to process information effectively. After getting so worked up, it becomes much harder to calm ourselves down. Thus, we are much more easily get more drawn into issues or arguments. f we take a break for an hour, if we can’t cool down we will only get worked back up again later.  Hence, it’s important to learn how to self-soothe. This is an essential skill that most of us need to learn.  It allows us to communicate much more effectively.

Reason #5:  Alcohol

For those who have a tendency to get angry and lash out, the problem is 1000 times worse when drinking is involved. Alcohol prevents us from being able to think ahead and make good decisions. Many couples in my practice that either struggle with alcohol or who are even just social drinkers more easily get hooked into heated arguments after just a few a drinks.

As you might suspect, no real relationship progress can be made if one partner can’t control their drinking and are verbally lashing out during conflict. They first need to get help for their alcohol issue before any meaningful progress can be made in their relationship.

While learning communication skills is necessary in order to have a healthy relationship, they are not enough by themselves. Are you and your partner are struggling with any of the above obstacles? It is best to get help from a trained and skilled therapist. Not only can these issues impact your relationship, but they can also negatively impact other areas of your life.

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