Communication Problems? Why HOK is the solution…

Would you like to know the essence of what I’ve learned from:

  • Years of working with couples in relationship crisis?
  • 100’s of hours sat in rooms with other counsellors doing dreaded role play?
  • Tens of thousands of pounds invested in acquiring qualifications from many different schools of thought on counselling and relationships?

You would?

Okay, let me give you the talk I give new couples I work with.

It goes like this…

…If I was to take everything I’ve learned and experienced about couples counselling…

…And condense it down to its simplest form…

…And no simpler…

…It would be this:

My work is to help couples have HOK conversations.

There you go.


You want to know more?

Okay, fair enough.

HOK is an acronym where:

H stands for Honest

“Honest”, we all know what that means, right?

Yeah, but…

…We all have our own truth.

And as my mum once told me: “No matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides.”

She’s right.

And in my experience working only with couples, you’re both right.

Which is fine.

But you’re in dangerous territory, when you have a need for your ‘Right’ to be accepted by your partner. Or when you’re convinced your ‘Right’ is more right than your partners ‘Right’.

And that can cause a lot of unnecessary conflict.


Because you’re both right.

And you’re both right, because you have your own truth. Truth built by your filters, your experiences and your upbringing.

You both have your own unique point of view.

So here’s an easy way to share your truth, your ‘Right’ in a way less likely to cause conflict and more likely to increase understanding.

Use the work “I”.

So you say things like:

  • “I feel…”
  • “I think…”
  • “When you did that… I interpretted it to mean… or I felt it like this.”

And so on.

Start by refusing to say what you know isn’t true.

And then concentrate on using the word “I”.

Next up…

O stands for Open

Always remember, telepathy is a terrible tool for a healthy relationship. Let me give you a metaphor to increase your understanding.

Take a look around the room you’re in. Can you see a window? Yes, good. Now look out of the window and tell me three things you can see.

I’ll wait.


Next, think of your bathroom window.

Now tell me what you can see out of it. And don’t say nothing. If it’s like most bathroom windows in the UK, it’s probably frosted or translucent in some way. And you can make out shapes and blocks of colour.

Finally, look at the wall and tell me what you can see through it.

Seriously, it’s not a trick question.

What can you see through the wall?

Exactly, nothing.

So what’s the point of this metaphor you’re wondering?

Well, with your partner (and closest friends) I recommend you’re like the first window you looked out of: Transparent. And when it comes to your thoughts and feelings…

…Don’t make them guess.

And with the rest of the world, I’ll let you decide if you’re better off being:

Translucent – Bathroom Window, you show them the bits of you you choose to share.


Opaque – A brick wall, you show them nothing.

Here’s a simple example.

If your partner asks you how you are…

…You might want to let them know about that thing on your mind you’re worried about.

But if a work colleague asks how you are…

…You’re probably better off replying with:

“Yeah, good thanks. How are you?”

You get the idea.

Being open means you don’t bottle things up, you don’t make your person have to guess or read between the lines.

Because I gotta tell ya, that whole: “If you really knew me, I wouldn’t have to tell you why I’m upset.”

Or another one of my favourites…

…”Perhaps our love isn’t real if I have to tell them what the problem is.”

All of that stuff is baloney.

It only happens in Hollywood romance films and Mills & Boons novels.

And the final part of HOK and the most importantly of all is…

K stands for Kind.

A client of mine once wore a hoody with the words:

“It’s cool to be kind”

Written on the front.

I liked that.

And as author Gordon Livingstone put it:

“Kindness is the Queen of virtues from which many others arise.”

In my experience, kindness is the most important part of HOK conversations.


Well, I’ve witnessed many couples weaponise honesty and openness to deliberately hurt and upset their partner.

But kindness makes that impossible.

And I like to add:

“If you can’t be kind, be quiet.”

It’ll save you a lot of arguments and heartache.

Update: Since first writing this blog post, I’ve made a lot of discoveries. Here’s an important one:

Being kind doesn’t mean you don’t say things to your person you know are likely to upset them, cause conflict or be awkward.

That wouldn’t be very wise would it?


What ‘Kind’ means is you consider what you’re going to say. You give thought as to how you can best deliver your news so as to cause the minimum harm or upset as possible.

Fortunately there are some very good couples counselling tools to help you do this.

Because as the Gottman’s discovered:

How you start a conversation predicts how it’s going to turn out. The first three minutes being the most critical.

And if it starts off badly…

…It’s unlikely to get better.

For now, just realise that being Kind doesn’t mean you avoid difficult subjects, it simply means you consider how best to start the conversation so as to cause minimum damage or fallout.

Now then…

…Like most things in life, it’s not quite as simple as that.

Not even HOK conversations.

Why not?

Because I quickly learned in my practice that couples can’t have Honest, Open and Kind conversations without Safety and Trust.

You can’t have HOK conversations when you…

Don’t feel safe with your partner

…Don’t trust your partner.

This is why I don’t keep secrets when doing the Attachment History part of our work together (Session 2).

When I’m with a couple I try my best to demonstrate HOK conversations in action, so that they know what they look like.

And I’m always seeking to build Safety and Trust between us.

But if it comes out later, that I already knew something their partner had shared with me – that they didn’t know – well, that destroys the safety and trust I’ve built with them.

Some couples counsellors will keep secrets, I don’t.

I used to.

But my experience has also taught me…

…You’re not my client.

And your partner isn’t my client.

My client is your relationship.

And all the information I gather in our first two sessions together will be used to serve the best interests of my client.

You’re relationship.

Now then, if you’ve read this far, you’ll appreciate that as simple as HOK sounds, it’s not always that easy in practice.

And you’re right.

That’s why I have a vast selection of tried and tested relationship enhancing tools available to me. Tools that can help couples, like you, to have HOK conversations and tools that help to build safety and trust if that’s what’s required first.

If you’d like to have Honest, Open, and Kind conversations, built on a foundation of Safety and Trust in your relationship…

Visit the home page to see which of the services I offer is the best fit for you.

South Devon Couples Therapy Services for couples in crisis.