Red flag

When it comes to relationship dangers, one word comes to mind: communication

Illustration By Frank Harris

Challenge your relationship
To learn more about Lee McHatton’s seminars or counseling, call 566-1212 or log on to

As far as relationships are concerned—and we’re talking anything from dating to celebrating a 50th anniversary—communication is the foundation. Most problems among couples, therefore, are the result of a (dare we say it) communication breakdown.

“People who are really happy communicate well,” said Lee McHatton, a licensed marriage and family therapist who also counsels couples before they tie the knot. “It’s the core of any relationship.”

When most people think about issues in their relationships, often money or kids or housework create tension. In McHatton’s mind, they all go back to communication. For example, discussing a tight budget or whose turn it is to do the dishes can alleviate resentment in the future.

“When people think of communication, they think of verbal communication,” said McHatton. But listening and not talking are also part of the equation.

So when discussing the dangers couples often run into, McHatton, who softens his linebacker build with a broad smile, returns again and again to the issue of communication, and its many components.

Couples who fight a lot or are unhappy in love often don’t know how to slow down the conversation, think about the other side, and truly listen to one another. Sometimes they use destructive language—words like “always” and “don’t” rather than “often” and “I’d rather.” Other times they choose not to talk at all.

“Communication is the avenue for destroying a relationship,” McHatton said, “and it’s an avenue for rekindling a relationship.”

Besides working regularly as a therapist—about half his practice is devoted to couples—McHatton also offers weekend-long seminars through Communication Consultants, which he runs with his wife, Sara, in which he coaches couples on how to relate to one another. Sara runs Wedding Bound, a wedding-coordination business, and the two also have a DJ business. (If you book Emmett’s Sound Productions for your wedding, you get the seminar for free.)

So, one could safely say the McHattons meet a lot of couples. And while many of them are devoted to understanding each other better, sometimes the relationships are just too far gone. This is often the case when one partner stops caring about the other, perhaps because of an affair.

“Sometimes Sara or I have said, ‘Are you sure you want to get married?’ “ Part of his seminar, then, is to challenge couples to look at their relationships before making the commitment.

“I recently had two doctors who had gotten married and they hadn’t even talked about whether they wanted kids or not,” he said. “They ended up getting an annulment within a year because he didn’t want kids and she did. How could you not talk about that?”

Big decisions that affect both partners, such as having kids or even where to take a vacation, should be made together, McHatton said. “Collaborative relationships” demand mutual respect and ensure that one partner is not taking too much control.

One of the things McHatton teaches is how to raise a couple’s EQ—or emotional quotient—which is made up of empathy, communication, social and listening skills.

“You’re communicating well if when you’re really ticked off at your partner you’re still able to listen to them and want for them,” he said. “To slow things down and empathize is a skill. When we’re ticked off, it’s all about us—that’s when it gets destructive.”

It’s not always easy to step back and take a look at how well you understand each other, but it can help tremendously in the long run. “Sometimes they’re all arrows in the heart and, ‘Oh, I’m in love,’ “ McHatton said, “and they aren’t thinking about these pragmatic things.”