For human beings in every part of our society, and especially between couples, great value is placed on clear communication. We all want to be understood. At some level, we all want to be known. We are Brenda and Gil Stuart, a coach and counselor team in Clark County. Couples approach us to help them untangle their relational knots, and they commonly say they have a communication problem. But often there is a deeper challenge. Consider the following hypothetical, which is indicative of what we (Brenda and Gil) see a lot:
Emily asks her husband, Luke, to run to the grocery store for her. Among other items on the list, potatoes are at the top. Upon Luke’s return, it is discovered that he got everything on the list except the potatoes. As the groceries are being unloaded, the conversation starts:
Emily: “How could you have forgotten the potatoes? They are the key ingredient for grandma’s recipe. The meal is ruined!” Emily bursts into tears as she sees the perfect meal she had planned for their dinner guests evaporate into frustration and disappointment in Luke.
Luke: “Look, I got everything else on the list. Can’t you at least acknowledge what I got? You never appreciate what I do.” Luke grimaces in anger at her habit of continually catastrophizing. He feels inadequate and demeaned.
Emily: “You never understand the importance of the little things to me.”
Luke: “Listen, I’m sorry, I do the best I can. You gotta admit you’re pretty high maintenance.”
Brenda: As you can tell, this conversation is headed for an RDS (Relational Downward Spiral). At this point, Emily and Luke have fallen prey to contempt, defensiveness, criticism and a very poor attempt at trying to repair the failure of completing a simple task. Emily and Luke’s dilemma is not just miscommunication. It’s the loss of connection.