Recently I met with a couple and something interesting occurred that happens fairly often in working with couples. The husband made a statement and it was not heard or understood by his wife leading her to object to his statement. I asked him to repeat it for his wife and he did so, but she continued to object to the statement stating it was incorrect. We explored her objection and then I restated what he had said using nearly the exact words that he used. The wife then replied to me “yes, I agree.” The husband looked at me with wide eyes and mouth open and exclaimed “Why did she agree with you but when I say it she refused to agree??” For many couples, when this occurs, it may feel that the spouse or partner is being difficult or refusing to concede, wanting to fight. Most of the time, a fight is not what we desire.
So why does this happen? It may seem like a strange phenomenon or magic when a counselor is able to say the same things with different outcomes but this isn’t a trick. The difference is in the relationship. The relationship between a couple whether they have been married for one year or 30 years holds experiences and interactions that far outnumber the relationship and experiences between a therapist and a client. In the couple’s experiences there is often heartbreak and disappointment along with support and success. In a therapeutic relationship there is DISCUSSION and EXPLORATION of heartbreak and disappointment but not the actual experience. The support and success can be truly experienced within the therapeutic relationship creating a different relationship. Also, the amount of time spent in the therapeutic relationship is vastly different from the marriage. I use the analogy of a book. It is not uncommon for couples to come into counseling stating “we just aren’t on the same page”. In a marriage of 10 or 30 years there aren’t just pages there are CHAPTERS! Being on the same page takes effort and practice. I explain that it’s difficult to be on the same page as another person. Especially when that book has multiple pages. The relationship that the wife and I shared had only a couple pages considering I had seen her maybe for a total of five sessions. The relationship that they shared after 10 years was a pretty significant book with multiple pages. The chances of being on the same page as someone with a few pages versus another relationship that has hundreds of pages is significant.
The key to getting on the same page is increased communication. This isn’t just “how was your day?” or vague questions such as “are you okay?”. We all need to become more engaged in our communication and ask questions that mean we are looking for intimacy. Even the question of “what does intimacy mean to you” is an open question that many of us have never asked our partner. The answers may surprise you.