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I want to have a healthy relationship, but every time I think I should talk an issue out with my partner, I just forget the words. I can only sulk and simmer and without meaning to I end up making snide comments. This is putting a lot of pressure on my marriage and still I cannot address it. Help.

A reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, asks

Answered by Dr Fabian Saarloos, clinical and healthcare psychologist, German Neuroscience Center

Dr Saarloos

The most important thing in a relationship is communication. Romantic relationships are based on sharing feelings, and emotionally regulating the partner.

Communication not only consists of a verbal part, i.e. the literal message that is being sent, but the bigger part of communication is actually non-verbal and emotion-based. Being attuned to the emotions a partner is communicating, and adequately responding to regardless of the content of the verbal communication, is the key in making pure contact with one’s partner.

It is not the lyrics that make the song, but the melody.

Similarly, it frequently is not the issue that one wants to talk about that creates the problem (one may agree to disagree), but it’s how the partner responds to one’s emotions. If the issue is difficult to put under words, the emotions e.g. the sulking and simmering already communicates that the partner is feeling anxious and sad.

Being open, empathic and accepting is the key, and this should indicate to the other partner, that no matter what the issue, he/she should provide safety/security or comfort and reassurance to the partner. Once the emotions have been addressed adequately and the partner has been neutralized, the issue can be talked about in a much more functional and problem-solving way.

Should problems persist, or partners are stuck in a circle of dysfunctional communication (e.g. defensiveness, attacking/blaming, neglect/avoidance), couples therapy may help both partners understand each other better, in particular with regards to the role of communication, expectations, needs and trust.

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Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.