The purpose of a thermostat is a house is to provide feedback to the heating and air-conditioning system. When the thermostat is working properly, it senses when the house is too hot in the summer and sends a message to the A/C unit to come on and lower the temperature. In the winter, when the house gets too cold, the thermostat sends a message to the heating unit to adjust to a warmer climate. If the thermostat is broken, people in the home either get so hot they burn up or they get so cold they freeze.

Communication is the thermostat in the relationship between a wife and husband. When things get out of balance in the couple system (too cold) too much distance or too hot (too many fights) the thermostat (communication) comes on and the couple adjusts the temperature and bring it back to a more comfortable environment. If the thermostat (communication system) is not working, couples either get so cold and distance their marriage freezes to death or they get so hot and angry with each other their relationship burns out.

About 85% of clients who come to see me for counseling write on their Intake Sheet “We can’t communicate, as the presenting problem. In most cases, they have disconnected emotionally or they are at a gridlock over heated disagreements or issues. When communication breaks down, couples fail to make the adjustments and changes that need to be made to restore balance and comfortableness to a relationship.

To resolve problems and issues that come up in marriage, talking and listening communication skills are required. Addressing conflicts, disagreements and misunderstandings through communication, prevents conflict from escalating out of control. A functional communication process is like a house thermostat, it makes early adjustments. It doesn’t wait until it is 100 degrees before it cools or 32 degrees before in warms. Prevention takes so much less energy and stress than fighting or solving an out of control problem.

There is a process called Couples Conflict Containment that works for some couples. It is a four step procedure. The first step is called mirroring. One spouse talks and the other listens (without trying to defend himself or herself) and responds by mirroring or repeating what the other spouse says in their own words. Mirroring starts by saying something like “Let me see if I understand what you are saying. Step two is validating, which means to accept without argument, what the partner says. You don’t have to agree to validate what your partner says. Let them own their reality although it might not be your reality. An example might be “What you say makes sense because…..” A third step is empathizing. To empathize with a partner is to try to feel what your partner feels. One example might be “I can imagine that made you feel.”
After one partner finishes, the other one tells his/her side of the story, while the first partner listens and mirrors, validates and empathizes as responses. After both have talked, then move to the final step, which is called activating. This process is developing a plan of strategy for dealing with whatever issue, misunderstanding or problem is on the table. Sometimes, it might necessitate an apology like “I am sorry…Next time let’s agree to” ….or “How’s this for a possible compromise?”

The Couples Conflict Containment process allows the relational thermostat to self-regulate and bring an increase in respect, caring and cooperation. Making up can really be fun!