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

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

For example, if your partner asks you if you’re okay about something, and you aren’t let them know.

O stands for Open

As you’ve heard me say many times before, 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 what you 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. You can probably make out shapes and blocks of colour.

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

And 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 say:

“If you can’t be kind, be quiet.”

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

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 the investigation 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.

But if it comes out later, that I 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.

It’s all material for therapy as far as I’m concerned.

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 wide range of tools available to me. Tools that can help couples 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.