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March 2010



Provided by Margaret Stoll, Ph.D.


Daniel B. Wile, Ph.D., a prominent Couples Psychotherapist in Oakland, California, believes that helping couples express their immediate authentic emotions to each other is the most useful way of improving not only their communication but their relationship in general.

He explains that when feeling some form of emotional discomfort with their partner, people often react either by attacking or avoiding. When attacking the person finds fault with or criticizes their partner rather than saying what it is they are feeling such as hurt, sad, insecure, angry, etc. In contrast, when avoiding, the spouse says nothing about their uncomfortable feelings. This avoidance often results in a distance between the two or even an angry attacking outburst later when their suppressed feelings get triggered.

Both of these approaches foster reactive attacking and avoiding which can result in cycles of this destructive interaction between the two partners.

Wile describes how expressing one’s true emotional distress without attacking or avoiding fosters empathy, connection and trust. Examples of authentic communications are, “I feel left out when you go on long walks with your girlfriends but not with me,” or “Your working such long hours makes me feel like I’m not important enough to you to make more time together.”. Trying to communicate one’s distress to his or her partner in these ways is a challenging but worthwhile way to overcome immediate conflicts and to create long term intimacy and cooperation.




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