By Kim Novick, CONTRIBUTION – JOANNA KLEOVOULOU,CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST

Many couples find themselves being weighed down by life stress, demanding roles and built-up unresolved difficulties. This can create physical and emotional distance between the couple, leaving both parties feeling less understood, rejected and unappreciated.

To have a lasting and meaningful partnership, there are some essential conversations that will assist in keeping the love alive, strong and able to withstand any rough patches. “For everyone, the need to be accepted, recognised, heard and understood leaves a feeling of safety, respect and validation,” explains Joanna Kleovoulou, clinical psychologist at the PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre in Bedfordview. “Meaningful conversation is an invitation to exchange warmth, solve family problems and strengthen physical and emotional bonds. It is a way to demonstrate what is important as a couple and a family, setting the tone of important value systems.” As such, it’s through meaningful conversation that we build and establish relationships and have our needs met.

There are certain issues that should definitely be discussed that the birth of a new baby may well prompt, says Joanna. “For example, now that you have a baby, you need to know how things are going to work on the job front.” Here are some important questions to discuss about your careers:

  • Whose career takes priority?
  • Will both of us continue to work outside the home once we have children?
  • Will the spouse with the higher income have more say in how our money is spent?
  • If you work and I work, who does the housework?

Another subject that should be fleshed out is your approach as a family to religion. If you haven’t done so already, be clear on these questions:

  • What code of ethics guides our life together?
  • How important do we regard religion and how will we teach it to our children?

Communication skills

Aside from the topics, conversation should be open and fluid between one another. Joanna suggests five important steps:

Check in with each other daily.  Find a receptive time to share the day’s events and the sweet and sour moments of the day with each other. Listen without interrupting, pay full attention, and make eye contact followed by a smile or warm gesture that initiates further openness. Make time for each other as a couple without the children. A weekly dinner date may sound clichéd but it’s important to spend time together as a couple

Value each other’s contribution.  Instead of finding faults and dumping on each other, focus on the meaningful contribution you each offer to one another and to the family. What we appreciate grows in value

Communicate shared responsibilities and individual needs. In the early days of having a baby, the mother will most likely be the parent who stays at home most of the time to look after your little one. Have the attitude that being a stay-at home mom is also a job. This will provide space for the couple to discuss and agree on responsibilities at home and what each couple needs to keep their individual sense of self intact. For dad it may be a round of golf on a Saturday. For mom it could be meeting with a friend for a hearty cup of coffee and conversation

Responsible parenting Leading by example, verbally and non-verbally (through your daily actions), will remind you as parents how to make your children independent, responsible, considerate adults one day and take the pressure off you to be overprotective

Put yourself in your partner’s shoes.  This illustrates empathy for your partner and shows support. One of the most common communication problems between couples occurs because one partner relays feelings, but the other interprets them as misstated facts. Feelings are different from facts and while your partner may communicate feelings that distort the facts as you see them, remember that the “facts” surrounding a disagreement are colored by your respective emotions.  Don’t forget to try and understand what your partner feels from his or her point of view.

Being a great communicator

While having those important discussions, remember these tips as they’ll help keep the discussion open and non-threatening:

Listen to your partner and respond with understanding to his or her suggestions or comments

Don’t offer advice unless it’s asked for.  Be prepared to solve problems together if that is what the discussion calls for

Pick the right place and time.  You don’t want to have a discussion when you don’t have time to talk about it properly. Pick an occasion when you both have adequate time and choose a place without distractions

Solve one issue at a time. Don’t try and fix and change everything that needs attention; be single-minded in your approach

There is power in solving problems. Each time you and your partner work out a problem – cooperatively, respectfully, creatively – you strengthen the relationship and establish a model for the future.

REMEMBER:

Don’t give up too soon Sometimes you will need to talk about an issue for a few minutes before you find that common ground

Don’t always give in to keep the peace If you always give in and let your partner decide, it will someday result in having an “I’m tired of letting you make all the decisions!” kind of a row.

For further assistance from our Therapist contact PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre  on  011 450 3576 or info@psychmatters.co.za.

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