Couple Communication Patterns


Over time, couples develop long-lasting communication patterns in the relationship. Believe it or not, they serve a purpose! It’s a way of creating balance or reciprocity in the relationship. Sometimes these patterns are harmless; creating what seems like harmony in everyday activities. But often, these patterns become stuck and cause problems.

My favorite is what I call Overfunctioning vs Underfunctioning! I’ll admit that I’m an overfunctioner and a very good one. I learned the hard way that it doesn’t really work very well and pay-off is poor.

Overfunctioning is basically having goals for another that they don’t have for themselves. If this is your pattern, you know the drill! It’s taking charge when someone else doesn’t. It’s giving unsolicited advice. It’s worrying about another. It’s feeling responsible for others – knowing what’s best for them. We talk more than listen. The end result is “Burnout” – feeling done in and tired.

Overfunctioners always hook up with an Underfunctioner. You can’t have one without the other. Underfunctioning is asking for advice when you could think it out for yourself. It’s getting others to help when help isn’t really needed. It’s acting irresponsibly – floating without goals most of the time. Underfunctioners will set goals but don’t follow-through. Often this pattern leads to addiction or illness.

In most cases, the overfunctioning partner looks healthier, more stable and more independent than the underfunctioning partner. Not true!! The overfunctioning person is just as stuck and is subject to more stress. Neither partner is living up to their potential. They are locked into a fused position of togetherness. The oxymoron here is that the more a person overfunctions, the more the other person underfunctions. The under-the-table message is that the underfunctioning person is incapable – can’t measure up so to speak.

What to do? How do you break this pattern? Are you ready for equality of functioning? It’s simple in context but difficult to do! If the overfunctioning partner begins to take responsibility for self and only for self – begins to communicate for self and only self, the underfunctioning partner will often begin to take initiative and step up to the challenge. This can take a while – nothing happens right away. The overfunctioning partner has to “keep on keeping on”. Things can get worse before they get better. The good news is that when one person is able to change, the dynamics have to change. The one thing I know for sure is that until one person changes, everything stays the same! What makes this change so hard? We overfunctioning partners have a very difficult time not giving advice, taking charge, and trying to change the other for their own good. We can “see” how things “should” be, “could” be. If only it would work! It simply doesn’t!

So, if you are like me and are a consummate overfunctioner, start taking the steps to make a change – just one change to begin with. Here are some ideas:

  • Learn to take a “dumb” pill. It means saying “you have no idea” what another should do even though of course you do!
  • Notice less what your partner/child does or doesn’t do and don’t ask.
  • Think about yourself – what you want, what you will and won’t do.
  • Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements.
  • Only speak for yourself.
  • Get counseling to help you stay on track.

The pay-off is big! Make it a research project in your mind!


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