Stuck in a relationship rut?

Do you seem to be “off” from your partner, no matter how much you try to connect? You, like many, may be struggling to improve the bonds in your relationship and feel like your efforts are futile. Many couples come to therapy and say that they need to communicate better. But what exactly does that mean?

The truth is, communication means different things to different people. It is important to decipher what parts of the communication pattern need to shift. There are several components that make up how we communicate. It is important to understand them and to identify where the misalignment is happening.

Let’s look at how we perceive giving and receiving love, relationship pitfalls, and the most significant (but silent!) part of how we communicate–non-verbal communication.

Sometimes it is a matter of having different expectations and needs.

The 5 Love Languages

Gary Chapman’s ever popular–and really useful 5 Love Languages explore the theory that each person has a different love language, or a combination thereof, including Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Physical Touch, and Quality Time. These “languages” are how we express our love to others, and how we most feel loved by others. When couples determine their own preferred languages, they can use this information to help better meet their partners where they are.

If you and your partner have different preferred languages, you can work on incorporating more of your partner’s love language into your efforts. This can strengthen your connection.  You are someone who prefers physical touch? Then you likely express your love by showing physical affection and probably feel most loved when others show their affection for you physically. Your partner’s language is quality time? Try to carve out space and prioritize time with each other (a bonus if you share what you define as quality time—this can vary greatly from person to person). The takeaway is that you and your partner can learn more about giving and receiving love, and use this information to better interact with each other.

The Four Horsemen

The Gottman Institute is one of the leading research-based practices for relationship concerns. They have identified the Four Horsemen, which can be indicative of maladaptive ways that conflict rears its ugly head in relationships. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not the presence of conflict or arguments in a relationship that is harmful, but rather how the conflict is addressed and/or attempted to be resolved. The Four Horseman are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The presence of any of these blocks any healthy way of resolving conflict. This can prevent effective and successful ways of addressing conflict in your relationship with your partner. You can read more about the Four Horsemen and how to rework your patterns to communicate more effectively here.

Speaking of communicating effectively…did you know that only 7% of communication is verbal?

The other 93% is a combination of body language and tone of voice. So much of what we say isn’t actually WHAT we say, but how it is said. That leaves plenty of room for misinterpretation. By identifying movement preferences, non-verbal expression cues, and body language, couples can become aware of their unspoken intentions. This assists with exploring new ways to say what they mean, and mean what they say.

Our facial expressions, eye contact, and postures have a way of communicating before words ever leave our mouths. Having our arms crossed with tense upper body can indicate being or feeling closed off. Frequent eye rolls or vocalized sighs can signify irritation or frustration. Couples can feel out of sync because they have different movement patterns. Movement patterns are the way we inherently interact with our space and environment and the people in it. One half of a couple may be gradual or decelerating. They may cautiously approaching how they move about the day and make decisions and choices. The other half may be more abrupt and accelerating—more apt to making quick decisions without much of a second thought. Neither approach is right or wrong, they are just DIFFERENT. But when partners approach things differently, it can cause strife or frustration simply because their movement preferences are varied.

What’s the next step?

Consulting with a therapist who specializes in body awareness and movement may be beneficial to help identify non-verbal language patterns to bring cohesiveness to the relationship. That therapist can observe and assess facial expressions, body posturing, and even rate and tone of speech to address whether the internal intention matches the outward expression. Consider meeting with a dance/movement therapist, or someone certified in movement analysis or movement patterning.

Like the 5 Love Languages and the Four Horsemen, any insight or awareness about movement preferences can help couples to become more attuned and aligned. Insight into these concepts can assist with fostering better overall communication and hopefully strengthening the partnership.

About the Author

Gail Gogliotti, LCPC, BC-DMT is a therapist at our Edison Park location. Gail works with adults and couples. Gail’s specialties include dance/movement therapy, body/mind integration, trauma, mood disorders, and stress management. If you are interested in working with Gail, send an email today.