In my practice, I see so many couples who say they are seeking help for improving their In my practice, I see so many couples who say they are seeking help for improving their

Integrity and Communication

communication-integrityIn my practice, I see so many couples who say they are seeking help for improving their communication skills. They work so hard adding to their communication tool belt. Typically feel disappointed that their relationships don’t seem to improve consistent with the number of communication techniques they’ve acquired.

Well, that’s because there is so much more at play than communication skills, per se. For example, the next time you and your partner tell each other you want to improve your communication, link communication to integrity rather than adding a new skill. It means being honest about what you feel, and taking responsibility for reducing your own emotional reactivity instead of blaming your partner for it when you’re in conflict.

If you take the stance such of, “Why should I have to change? He/She is the one with the problem!”, then you are not taking responsibility for yourself. Only you can change you, and only your partner can change your partner. So, improving your communication starts with changing your thinking about relationships in general, and changing your thinking about how you communicate under stress in particular.

Consider this: relationships are actually about two limbic systems, or two emotional brains, trying to get along. Your emotions play a crucial role in your attempts to communicate effectively. If you don’t keep reactivity at an acceptable level, the point you so want to make will probably get lost in an uproar. After all, the emotional or limbic brain, will almost always take priority over the logical brain, the prefrontal cortex.

When the emotional brain is activated, it wants one thing: relief. Because of how humans are wired, most of us will do just about anything to get that relief. And that’s when the going gets rough.

So, the idea of better communication is not about using the so-called “I” statements. It is about living with the integrity to take responsibility for your emotional states. It is also essential to effectively take charge of  finding relief without demanding that your partner makes a change in order for you to feel better.

How do you do that?
1. Acknowledge that you’re feeling activated, rather than acting it out. For example, instead of calling your partner a name, instead express feeling angry, or frustrated, or whatever it is you are feeling.

2. Rather than blaming your partner for what you feel, try using the following formula:
When you do “A” in situation “B” I feel “C,” and that then I (insert behavior) “D.”

Here’s what it sounds like:
“Honey, when you (A) interrupted me in (B) our discussion, I (C) felt frustrated and irritated, and I (D) shutdown.”

3. As a listener let your integrity and credibility show. In response to the above, find some truth in your partner’s complaint, and offer the following:
“You’re right, sometimes I do interrupt you, and I know it leaves you feeling mad and frustrated, and then you shut down. In fact, sometimes I feel that way too. I am sorry.”

That, my friends, is how integrity and communication are interconnected. Try focusing on strengthening that connection in your relationship, and I trust both of you will be pleasantly gratified by the results.

**This article can also be seen in video, here.**

© Copyright 2010 by Jim Hutt, PhD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • A.Fletcher

    August 2nd, 2010 at 5:18 PM

    I’m very short-tempered and whenever there is some argument with my girlfriend,I just burst out and do not know what happens to me.But I do know that I speak a bit too much and end up hurting her.
    But I don’t know how. I just don’t know how she manages to control her anger, to be sweet even during an argument, to remain calm and understand things. Maybe I am lucky to have her. Whatever it is, I really want to thank her and improve my own behavior.

  • Dr. Jim Hutt

    August 2nd, 2010 at 8:55 PM

    Mr. Fletcher,

    At the risk of stating what you probably already know, ask your girlfriend how she does it–
    how she keep her reactivity low. But when you do, see if you can get her to tell you what she’s THINKING, as it typically is our thoughts that precede our feelings & reactivity. That means that if we can alter what we think or believe, we can often change how we react.

    In the mean time, see a good couples therapist with her if you can, and learn more about what reactivity is, get some techniques for managing your feelings, and try to do more than using so called will-power, as that doesn’t work so well.

    But keep trying–I can see your working on it. Don’t give up!

  • Emma

    August 3rd, 2010 at 2:47 AM

    You sure are a lucky man,Fletcher! Not many people will take it if there partner is short-tempered and is volatile.

    Nevertheless, I hope you are able to tone down your anger and manage it and make your girlfriend just as lucky as you are.

  • Nan

    August 3rd, 2010 at 4:30 AM

    I try to always tell my husband what is on my mind but I feel like he avoids the issue. What good is having integity and getting it all out when I know that there will be no response, like talking to a brick wall? How do I overcome that?

  • Jim Hutt, Ph.D.

    August 3rd, 2010 at 7:42 AM

    Nan, what you describe tells me it’s time to give relationship counseling a try. It sounds like your husband is stonewalling, or, maybe there’s a part of him that is conflict averse for one reason or another. If he’s like a brick wall, he’s not letting you in. So do this:

    1. Tell him you are going to make an appointment with a couples therapist for the two of you, and you want to know when his schedule will accommodate the appointment.

    2. If he says he will not go, tell him that’s OK (keeping your reactivity low), you will be happy to go alone, and that if he changes his mind at any time, even at the last minute, he is more than welcome. Then schedule the appointment.

    3. If he happens to ask why you want to go, tell him you want to figure out what it is your are doing or not doing that is making it difficult for him to let you in–figure out what he might be responding to that requires that brick wall.

    In answer to your question about “what good is integrity,” when you bring your credibility and integrity to the table, as in those 3 steps above, you make it safe for him to reflect on his behavior, while at the same time letting him know how difficult this is for you, and that you are serious about confronting the issue without blaming him.

    Hope this helps.

  • LILY

    August 3rd, 2010 at 10:53 AM

    I used to have conflicts with my husband and it is quite normal.But it used to get pretty ugly at times and that’s when we decided to see a counselor.And to tell the truth it has worked for us.Yes,actually!We are now able to sort out our differences in a much better manner.And the reason for that?It is nothing but proper communication and talking to your partner about what is going on in your head and trying and keeping yourself from boiling over.

  • Jim Hutt, Ph.D.

    August 3rd, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    Lily, I’m VERY happy to know counseling was helpful to you and your husband.
    If you have a little time, it would be great if you could share with us what “proper communication” meant to you. We can ALL use some tips for effective communication.

  • Andrew m

    August 4th, 2010 at 4:01 AM

    there’s nothing that can break uncomfortable silence as a little talk.there’s nothing that can erase distances between people like communication and there is nothing that can stop a fight like some talk.

  • Nan

    August 4th, 2010 at 4:35 AM

    thanks so much for the feedback! I am going to give it a try and only hope that he will go along with it.

  • Jim Hutt, Ph.D.

    August 4th, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    You’re welcome, Nan! Good luck!

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