Why Non-Verbal Communication Matters

If you were to ask, How are you? and I responded I’m fine, but my voice was stern or mocking, my brow furrowed, and my hands on my hips in an aggressive stance, what would you think? My words send the message I am fine, but my non-verbals send a very different message: I am definitely not fine. As a listener you are probably confused by the completely contradictory messages. 

Communication studies find that the words we use are the least powerful element in defining the nature of a relationship. Voice, tone, gestures, facial expression, body postures, inflection hold much more power.

Your goal is to have congruency between what you feel, what you say, and how you say it. Anything else contributes to miscommunication, and communicating is challenging enough already. 

Relationships are complex and emotions get stirred up in counseling sessions. Emotions can be hard or soft, and your communication should reflect these nuances. It is not genuine to always be happy, always be sad, always be meek. I work with couples to develop ways to match their verbal and nonverbal communications, and have that communication be in harmony with the underlying emotion. 

When You’re Speaking
When you are talking about vulnerable, painful, or fearful topics, I encourage you to match that affect. Slow down your speech, soften your tone, sit in a non-threatening posture, perhaps hold hands. 

In contrast, if you are discussing something that you are very angry about, match that affect as well. Speak with a clear and direct voice, be expressive, go ahead and furrow that brow. Express your anger rather than repress it. Release that tension and convey to your partner the depth of importance the topic holds for you. 

When You’re Listening
As a listener the same rules apply. Maintain eye contact with your partner. Turn your upper body to face them directly, sit or stand in a comfortably close proximity. This sends the message I am listening and what you are saying is important to me. If I say I’m listening but I am standing half way across the room, my body is facing away from you, and my eyes keep darting to the television or my cell phone instead of you, the message I am sending is I am not fully listening and what you are saying is not fully important to me. 

I work with couples on these basic listening skills but also on matching each other’s affect. If your partner is telling you their deepest fears, hurts, and wounds, check in with the non-verbal message you are sending as a listener. Is your facial expression hard or soft? Are you leaning towards or away from your partner? Are your arms crossed in front of you—which says, I am guarded—or are you offering a hand to hold in a soft way—which says, I want to connect with you?

Why Does This Matter?
Research finds that people respond to and connect more with non-verbal messages. Expressing emotion allows others to feel them and connect with you.

This is how we empathize.
This is how we bond.
This creates deeper emotional intimacy. 

How might your conversations change if your non-verbal communication offered the reassuring message: I am here with you and it is safe to tell me how you feel?

Have questions or want to learn more about Couples Therapy? CLICK HERE to contact Dr. Parker

When Your Partner Says, ‘I just want you to listen’

Somewhere along the line this has probably happened in your relationship:
Your partner, upset about something, vents their frustrations, saying something like, I just want you to listen.

What do they really want from you in that moment?

Here’s the important part, friends. Generally, what they don’t want is you telling them what to do – unless they specifically ask what would you do? or What do you think I should do?

The real problem is simply that your partner is stressed about something. Helping them with stress can involve some simple steps:

Listen! Don’t interrupt. Let them finish their train of thought.
Make eye contact, nod, use your non-verbals to communicate “I am listening and you have my full focus.” 
Ask open-ended or clarifying questions so you clearly understand the situation. Say, “Help me understand what you mean,” then ask your question. Avoid Wolf-in-Sheep’s-Clothing questions such as: “Have you tried…?” These are actually just your efforts to solve the problem, dressed up as a question. 

Deep down you really just want to help. But consider this: When we are frustrated or upset and complain to our partner, we are seeking emotional support, and that makes us vulnerable. When our partner jumps to problem solving instead of listening and validating, it has the opposite effect.

Express Empathy
Say things like I get it, or That sounds stressful/frustrating/irritating, or my personal favorite: That sucks, babe. Express support and camaraderie. Say things like, I’ve got your back, anything that conveys an Us vs the World approach.

Validate your partner’s feeling or thinking. We all want to know that we’re not crazy in feeling what we do. It is comforting to hear a loved one say: I understand why you feel that way.

Before you move into a problem solving mode, ask whether advice is actually wanted. Say something like: Would it be helpful for you if we come up with some solutions together? Convey that you care more about your partner than solving the problem. But remember: If this comes too early the conversation, it won’t be helpful at all. 

At the end of the day, it’s their problem, and probably perfectly capable of finding a solution. They may have already thought through most of the suggestions you would make, and are just not emotionally ready to take action yet. 

Just Listen.

Have questions or want to learn more about Couples Therapy? CLICK HERE to contact Dr. Parker

Intimacy: When Your Expectations Don’t Align

The question of intimacy, for many couples, is sort of like the age-old question, Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?

One partner needs quality time, romance, and connection in order to feel turned on for intimacy. The other feels the act of intimacy is what turns on their sense of romance and connection.

Intimacy is like so many other aspects of your relationship. You need to understand that you are two individuals with differences in personality, style, worldview, and emotional needs. We can’t assume that two people will align completely. And that’s okay!

So the question becomes: How do we cope/manage the differences?

One of the secrets to success of happy couples is the realization that all interactions flow into each other. Courting, flirting, and foreplay is a continuous cycle throughout the life of the relationship. There really isn’t a beginning or an end.

What I mean by this is: When dating, you have your courting, flirting, and foreplay in “doses” – date night, an afternoon together, maybe a weekend away – then you each head back to your own home.

Things don’t work that way when you live together. Taking out the trash, commenting on how nice, sexy, beautiful, or handsome your partner looks, holding his or her hand when you take a walk, even the way you deal with personal stress, is part of the flow of your continuous courtship, flirting, and foreplay.

How Couples Therapy Can Help

There are many strategies couples can use to cope with differences of all types. I work with couples on finding ways to:

  • Prioritize time for the relationship because intimacy, for many busy couples, isn’t something that just happens, but needs to be nurtured. In a sense, you should never really stop dating each other!
  • Cultivate a culture of appreciation so you are more assured of a sense of teamwork and support in your daily lives.
  • Speak more openly, directly, and effectively about intimacy so you can start to work together to honor each other’s needs and style.

Have questions or want to learn more about Couples Therapy? CLICK HERE to contact Dr. Parker

Couples Therapy: What You Can Expect

Image from Unsplash by Priscilla Du Preez

In couples counseling, I want one thing to be clear from the start: Neither of you will ever feel ganged up on or judged. This is my approach:

You and your partner are the only members of a team called “US,” and I am your coach – here to guide you so you can grow closer rather than pushing each other away. I want you both to feel:

• Supported and accepted by me, the counselor
• Encouraged and confident that things can improve
• Focused on your strengths, positive skills, and why you fell in love in the first place

The specific approach depends on the goals you, as a couple, have set. Some couples come with general concerns, such as wanting to improve the relationship and feel more connected. Others enter counseling with specific issues such as a recently disclosed affair, specific unresolved conflicts, or challenges with sexual intimacy.

The Process

Typically, we begin with a joint session. During the second session I spend some individual time with each of you. This allows me to get a clear vision of what has brought you to counseling, gather the history of the relationship, a brief background on each of you, and to clarify your goals in seeking counseling. From there, most sessions are held jointly. We work on addressing problems realistically, and helping you gain new skills and knowledge within the relationship.

The Promise

My promise to you – both of you – is that I will not take sides or play judge on your issues. My goal is to help you better manage the differences between you. My role is to offer hope, direction, and motivation to bring emotional safety and affection back into your “Team US.”