Feeling heard, seen, and understood by your partner is the bedrock of your relationship.

Relationship & Marriage Counseling For Communication Issues in Mt. Pleasant, Charleston, and Online in South Carolina

"If only my partner could get where I’m coming from, they wouldn’t be so upset."

Sound familiar? How often do you tell your partner the same thing over and over again … hoping for a different outcome each time? This common relationship pattern is called “the cycle.” 

Unfortunately, all the cycle does is continuously reinforce poor communication. You both end up feeling disconnected and alone. Through counseling and therapy, we can help the two of you fight against this cycle: instead of against each other.

Start feeling more understood: quickly.

We help you understand where the breakdown is in your communication patterns and how to communicate in a productive, loving way that really says “Hey, I love you. You are enough. You are loveable.” Couples often feel relief within the first six weeks of counseling and can’t believe how quickly things start to turn around.

Understanding your cycle is the first step in healing.

Often couples come in thinking that their partner is the problem. When we start looking at real life examples of conflict that a couple brings to session we can shift the focus from your partner being the problem to the cycle being the problem.


How do you know when you're in "the cycle?"

You want your partner to understand you and to get what you’re upset about. Yet, when you share how you feel, your partner rolls his eyes, walks away, or gives some counter criticism saying, “yeah, but you do it to me too.” 

Now, your partner feels a million miles away from you … when all you really want is for them to help you feel better and worthy of loving.

To determine if you and your partner are in the cycle, ask yourself how often you experience these common protective behaviors:

  • Criticism
  • Yelling, name calling
  • Explaining again and again what I want
  • Defending, justifying, or getting “rational”
  • Proving how I’m right and you’re wrong
  • Shutting down
  • Walking out of the room
  • Avoiding

How the cycle of miscommunication works.

The cycle describes the different steps in a communication dance. Each partner has a role to play and contributes to the cycle. Here is an example of a possible cycle:

We may feel insecure about how consistently our partner cares and attends to us. We really want to feel secure and sure about how much our partner cares for us.

e.g., I really want to feel like my partner loves me.

My partner does or says something (cue).

e.g., This morning my partner didn’t offer to make me a cup of coffee.

I tell myself something about what the cue means (appraisal).

e.g., When he didn’t offer to make me a cup of coffee (cue) that says to me he really doesn't care about me (appraisal).

After we have made an appraisal or meaning out of the cue, we then have a feeling about the appraisal.

e.g., When I get the message he really doesn’t care about me I get pissed off.

When we have the feeling of anger or frustration there is usually underneath the anger a more vulnerable feeling like sadness and/or fear.

e.g., I feel angry about this and when I sit with my anger I realize I’m also fearful about being rejected by the most important adult person in our life.

But it doesn’t feel safe enough to share my vulnerable emotion of fear or sadness, so instead I’m going to use a protective behavior to signal to him I’m upset.

e.g., I feel pissed off so I make a snarky comment like “thanks for making me coffee this morning”. Or maybe I just walk out of the room without saying good morning.

My protective behavior becomes the cue for my partner and they go through the same process.

e.g., Eg. My snarky comment (protective behavior) says to my partner that I’m already criticizing him (cue) first thing in the morning. He thinks to himself “here we go again” (appraisal). This leaves him feeling helpless and like he’s never going to get it right with me (sadness) so he just rolls his eyes and leaves the room (protective behavior).

His protective behavior cues me ... and we end up in a never ending cycle.

Does the dog seem higher up on your partner's priority list than you?

What’s really happening when you get into a cycle?

Being “sensitive” in a relationship is usually a sign that things don’t feel secure. Cycles often seem to begin with a really trivial seeming comment like, “You forgot to take out the trash” or little comments, looks, or gestures. When a couple is securely functioning these little remarks are often not a big deal, or may even be funny to the couple. Yet, when the relationship is insecure even the smallest comment can set off a fight.
Cycles occur when your partner is longing to be loved by you.
When we aren’t sure that our partner loves us, hears us, will be there for us, and/or will handle our emotions with care we can start to “act crazy” about what may seem like the smallest little things. When the cycle is activated it means that your partner is longing to feel your closeness. Yet in that moment that is the last thing they seem to be communicating.

Try this relationship-improving experiment with your partner tonite

What can you say "thank you" for?

One of the best ways to increase connection with your partner is to tell them one thing each day that you appreciate about them. If you find this challenging, stick to the basics: 

  • I really appreciate how hard you work to support us financially.
  • You are a terrific parent to our children.
  • I appreciate you stopping by the grocery store to pick that thing up.
  • Those eggs were delicious and helped me start the day off right, thank you.
  • I was at my wit’s end with the kids this morning, thank you for stepping in to give me a break.
  • You make everyone feel so welcome in our home, I really appreciate that about you.
  • I know I was a total grump, thank you for being patient with me.

Be a relationship by practicing this every day for a week (or longer!)

Doing this can really make a difference, but it’s not as easy as 1-2-3. Lip service doesn’t work and your partner senses the difference. It may take a few minutes of your time to come up with something you are truly grateful for and doing so is a huge investment in your relationship.
Put your seatbelt on when you express your gratitude.
If this is a new thing you are doing then your partner may be taken off guard, suspicious, and bristle up if not shoot you outright with an arrow. This is to be expected. Be prepared, have your seat belt on, and try to interpret any pushback you get as them protecting themselves and that underneath they really do care how you feel about them. Smile back and say it’s true and you just wanted them to know. You just took a huge risky step towards improving things. Be the relationship hero in that moment.

Want to know you matter to them?

Why did you choose your partner? Right now, you have a gut wrenching feeling about your future together. When you are stuck in a cycle of cycles, you feel unseen, unloveable, unwanted, and not good enough. But, that wasn’t always the case – and it doesn’t have to be like that forever.

What am I, chopped liver?

What if your partner said, “Ah thanks honey, that means a lot to me to hear” and then gives you a big hug? Maybe they even say, “I know I don’t tell you enough how much I appreciate everything you do.” How would THAT make you feel?

Everything is possible when two people really want to make things work.

Stop the cycle ... together

The first step in stopping the cycle comes with learning all of your and your partner’s moves in the cycle. We really slow things down in session and look for where the cycle started, and what were the first unconscious steps you both took that lead you down the path of disconnection.

The cycle swallows the two of you up and dumps you into shark infested waters.

In session, your therapist will help you begin to know when you are in the cycle. The next step is for either you or your partner to be able to recognize that you (or were) in a cycle and to name the cycle. “Hey, I think we were in the cycle last night when we went to bed?” When one or both of you recognize in real time you are in the cycle then you work to not make the next move you usually would in the cycle.

Meet our team of couples counselors and relationship therapists in Mt. Pleasant, Charleston, and online across South Carolina