Q: In my marriage we seem to always have problems with communication. I guess we don’t need marriage counselling but we do need communication skills.

    A: In fact, most marriage counselling is focused on communication skills. Often we find that communications in families are like a dance. Someone pursues while the other distances. Someone overfunctions allowing the other to underfunction. Someone is always thinking they are right and blaming the other. There are many other “dance combos” but these will give you an idea of where communication gets complicated.


    1. Pursuers deal with stress by wanting more togetherness. They want to talk things out no matter how long it takes. They believe it is important to express feelings and feel personally rejected when someone wants ‘their space.’ Pursuers respond by pursuing harder and if unsucessful, coldly withdrawing. They may be “dependent” or “demanding” in their relationships but believe that their partner can’t handle feelings or closeness.


    • Distancers look for emotional or physical distance when stressed. They want to appear self-reliant and private and have difficulty showing their needy, vulnerable, dependent side. Sometimes seen as “emotionally unavailable” and “unable to deal with feelings” they manage anxiety by focusing on work. They sometimes end relationships because they are not confident that they can work it out.


    • Underfunctioners become less competent and organized under stress, forcing others to take over. They develop physical or emotional symptoms and have difficulty showing their strong, competent side. They often become the ‘child’ in the relationship.


    • Overfunctioners always know what’s best, not only for themselves but for others too. Under stress they move in quickly to advise, rescue, and take over. They have difficulty staying out of other people’s problems. They avoid worrying about their own issues by focusing on others and are seen as “reliable” or “together”. Overfunctioners allow underfunctioners to remain inadequate. They become the ‘parent’ in the relationship.


    • Blamers respond to anxiety with emotional intensity and fighting. They have a short fuse and spend much energy trying to change someone who does not want to change. Their fights are always the same and they blame the other for why they feel as they do, or for why they cannot change.



    Recognizing the styles of communication that are going on in your family will be the first step in making lasting changes.


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