Often in the midst of a therapy session a couple will frustratingly declare to me, “We never communicate.”

The truth is that they are communicating all the time, but they just don’t like the message their partner is sending them. If my wife decides to get up when I’m talking to her, walk into our room, and slams the door — she is communicating to me. I just don’t like that message.

In the very short and helpful book, Family Ties That Bind: A Self-Help Guide to Change Through Family of Origin Therapy, Dr. Ronald W. Richardson says this:

“What most people mean by ‘communication,’ however, is sameness. When people think they are ‘really communicating,’ they usually mean they are thinking about things in the same way. When Maggie says George is not communicating, the problem really is that he is not communicating what she wants communicated. We are always communicating; we can’t not communicate.” (pp. 41)

Often couples who are unable to tolerate different messages from one another are struggling with a lack of differentiation in their relationship. Their inability to securely “stand on their own two feet” may signal an emotional fusion that has its roots in their family of origin.

A healthy couple is able to tolerate a healthy balance between togetherness and separateness in a marriage, rather than always feeling the need for agreement.