Can You Hear Me? The Challenges of Couples’ Communication

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It is that time of year again. Valentine’s Day approaching. Apprehension on your mind. What will you do to celebrate? Why is your spouse bringing up the same argument from five years ago as you are trying together to determine your plans? How is it you are still arguing about who left the top off of the toothpaste? How can you enjoy the most romantic day of the year when you keep arguing?

You sit there, wondering why the same argument recurs between you and your spouse with no resolution. Your spouse throws a dig at you; you make a comment back, feeling it is tit for tat. Any of this sound or look familiar to you?

This is indicative of stymied communication. Stymied communication is defined as communication with no resolution. Hotly debated topics remain hotly debated topics, as both you and your spouse cannot develop a mutual understanding of one another’s point of view. This induces and maintains friction and contention within your relationship.
Each time, you and your spouse walk away from an argument, you both feel unheard and hurt and neither of you wants to acknowledge the hurt continuously experienced. The hurt transforms into anger, and the anger continues to build. Five years later, the same argument occurs, but now the anger increasingly intensifies and your “small” argument morphs into a large quarrel.

Small arguments are not truly small, because they indicate accumulated frustrations and anger. The argument of the toothpaste is not truly about the toothpaste; rather, within our framework, it illustrates a place of anger and feeling unheard in regards to making your plans. You bring up the toothpaste problem because it feels easier arguing about your spouse not being sensitive to your needs rather than expressing your overall pain and discomfort to your spouse. You are thus not saying what you truly mean and your spouse reacts to what you are saying, missing your underlying meaning completely.

As the anger continues to accumulate, you and your spouse continue to feel distant from one another, increasing your feelings of being misunderstood, which overall decreases your ability to truly connect to one another. Not understanding and conveying your true pain and needs continue to erode your relationship. This erosion builds upon the anger and hurt caused by stymied communication, thus leading the two of you to continue isolating from one another, which undermines your ability to feel connected.

Communicating, the ability to share information, is hard; and yet, it is the cornerstone of a relationship. Communicating allows for both you and your spouse to feel heard. When you truly feel heard, you and your partner can address your true pain, and not the “small” arguments that lead to large quarrels resulting in feelings of isolation. There will always be points of contention between you and your spouse. You are two separate people with two separate needs who chose to be together because you love each other and want to be together.

Conveying to your spouse you are feeling hurt and unheard can be difficult. It may seem that your spouse does not truly understand you or what you need, or what you are trying to say. Sometimes we need outside help, a place where you can put those needs on the table and find a new way of communicating in order for you and your spouse to grow closer. This demonstrates strength and growth, for it shows how you and your spouse want to continue to increase in your ability to be close, choose to continue to bolster each other’s spirits, and are overall looking for more tools to enhance that closeness. By asking for help, you and your spouse can achieve your overall goal of continuing to grow and deepen your love for one another, and can continue to help each other find the strength to continue to work toward overcoming fears and accomplishing dreams.

Pax River Counseling is a private group practice conveniently located on Route 235 near Chancellors Run Road in the Town Creek Professional Building. Now accepting new clients for individual, couples and family counseling. For more information and to schedule an appointment call 301-880-4833 or visit

Pax River Counseling has opened a new office in Annapolis, MD. For more information and to schedule an appointment call 410-991-0094 or visit

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Shana Frenkel
Shana Frenkel, LGSW, Assistant Clinical Director at Innerworks, a Division of Pax River Counseling, LLC, specializes in working with anxiety, depression, and trauma. She also specializes in working with military couples and military service related issues for service members and their families. Shana received a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in Therapy Through Creative Expression and her M.S.W. from University of Pennsylvania. Shana is certified in cognitive processing therapy, and works with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related traumas with adolescents and adults. She integrates a holistic model in treating and working to successfully reduce PTSD symptoms. Shana works with children, adolescents and adults. In addition to her specialties, Shana also has training and extensive experience in play therapy with children, sand tray therapy with children, energy psychology, meditation, intuitive holistic eating, wellness training, and couples counseling


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