Communication Advice: Learning a new Style of Communicating is like driving a Stick Shift Car


A beginner learning to drive a stick shift car struggles; can’t find the gears, grind the gears a little, and often kill the car over and over. This humiliation and entertainment can be anxiety provoking. Some people at this point get so frustrated and intimidated, they give up learning and go back to what they know….an automatic car. Others get determined and practice over and over…some picking it up quicker than others.

Once the driver gets a hang of the stick shift in the parking lot practice, they venture out onto the long streets with obstacles of stop lights and cars passing by, turning lanes, and the hi speed freeways. The driving isn’t as smooth; it requires much thought and concentration. It isn’t automatic.
The thoughts of what gear do I need to shift to, how much gas do I need, and how much do I let off the clutch to make the car move? The ride is all thought and definitely not automatic. It isn’t smooth, but as time passes by, the ride becomes less stressful, the shifting becomes easier, and sooner or later there is no thought at all. At this point, the person can become adventurous and talk on the telephone, have a conversation with the passenger, or even eat some food while driving. The drive then becomes automatic.

I illustrate this story to share with you the driving experience of working with a relationship therapist and the process therapy takes.

Driving a stick shift car is much how the marriage or couples therapy process goes. Therapy starts off discussing new techniques in driving the relationship, such as areas to improve the communication, and open up in different ways. The therapist guides the therapy session and begins to teach the couple how to communicate and resolve issues in a healthier way. The couple ventures out into the isolated parking lot and begins to practice. Put on your seatbelts because it may be an extremely bumpy ride, one that creates high anxiety. They are trying to learn how to drive the stick shift in the relationship, but do not have much experience. The only experience they have is driving an automatic car. They know how to drive; however, the do not know how to change the gears.

Week after week of practicing new ways of communicating, the couple begins to attempt driving on the fast pace streets. It is getting easier, but still takes thought. The continuous thoughts of how to communicate to your partner, the reaction that you want your partner to hear, and so on. Therapy session after therapy session, the couple no longer thinks about the communication style, and it becomes automatic….just like the driving. And for those that get frustrated and intimidated, they might give up and go back to what they know. Relationships can become easy, take less concentration, and be a smooth ride. It takes a good teacher and a good student willing to step out and try something new.