Improving Couple Communication

Communication is a complex behavior.  No wonder many couples have trouble with it!

For a “message” to be received and responded to as the sending partner wishes, the sender has to be mindful of what the receiving partner actually “hears”.

That means that whenever you “send a message” (that’s really important to you), you have to carefully choose which words the receiver is most likely to “hear”, and how you “say” your message, so the receiver is likely to respond in the way you desire.

Whether you are aware of it or not, your receiver “hears” much more than the actual words you choose.  He or she will be more or less aware of your posture, movement, gestures, facial expression, use of space, use of time, touch, your clothing, pitch, volume, rate, inflection, vocal quality, pronunciation, articulation, enunciation, silence, and non-word utterances.

Wow.  A lot to think about, huh?  Well, don’t worry.  When you decide on and commit to getting the response you want from your partner, rather than on simply expressing yourself, your communication is much more likely to be successful. This requires verbal and non-verbal behavior motivated by and focused on the response you want from your partner.  It is not focused on you.  This may be difficult, when the verbal and non-verbal communication behavior required by the situation, is foreign to you.  You see, personality type usually determines how we behave.  The behavior required of you to get the response you want may not be part of your usual repertoire of behaviors.  Flexibility – the willingness to try new behavior – may be required of you.

So there are two fundamental keys to effective communication:     1. Intention – being clear about what response you want and      2. Flexibility – being willing and able to send your message with carefully chosen words and body language (verbal and non-verbal cues) that the receiver is likely to respond to in the way you wish.

Knowing this, I help couples improve their relationship by improving their ability to clarify their intentions and create verbal and non-verbal messages designed to achieve their goals.  The specific strategy I use to teach the verbal aspects of a targeted message is called “scripting”.  The specific strategy for awareness of and ability to perform effective non-verbal aspects of communication is called “physicalizing”.

Scripting and physicalizing strategies for couple and marriage counseling arose from my education and training as an actor and director, having earned an MFA in Dramatic Arts.  They’re fundamental to Therapeutic Acting, the name I use for the systematic and successful application of dramatic arts to psychotherapeutic principles and practices.

You may be interested in what one couple said about Therapeutic Acting:      “Thanks, Dr. Kimmel, for giving us permission to do what we’ve needed to do all along!”

Actually, Therapeutic Acting was less about “permission” and more about their willingness and ability to “risk” new behavior at home, after “rehearsing” the script and physicalizing in my office!