This blog post is part two of our Everything Matters series where we explore how knowing your partner more deeply can lead to the best relationship possible. If you haven’t read it yet, check out part one here.
It’s one thing to being to come into a greater awareness of the beautiful complexity of who you are. It’s completely another thing to realize that there is an equally beautiful – and equally complex – person sitting across the table from you. How do you even begin to navigate the process of getting to really know one another? How can you let them know that you appreciate their depth? Can you learn to communicate more effectively?
If you ask any therapist who works with relationship issues, they will tell you that every single couple they see will say, at some point in the process, “We just need help communicating.” If you’ve ever thought that – or said it aloud – know that you are definitely not alone.
I have to admit, though, I think there is way more going on than just that. Yes, I am being a little technical here, but I happen to think that we are constantly communicating. Every word, every action, every eye roll and smirk, every time we raise our voice or cry or go outside to let off steam. Everything communicates. It’s not that we need help communicating as much as we need help to be more aware of the messages that we are sending and receiving.
If you’ve read part one, then you already have a head start. Refining your communication with your partner starts with developing a greater understanding of yourself – knowing what it is that you actually want to say requires knowing yourself on a deeper level.
And give yourself some grace before you start. When you begin to break it down, communication can become pretty complex. Take, for example, this list of actual phrases that we might use in our relationships:
- “I Love You.”
- “Please do the dishes.”
- “I have a headache.”
- “Don’t you ever listen to me?”
As you read these, you might be aware that some or all of them are causing a reaction in you. Maybe you have heard them before (Maybe you’ve heard them today!). Whatever you’re experiencing right now, it’s quite likely that you’re adding emotion to these statements that isn’t actually there, at least in their written form. Those kind of emotions are stimulated every time you hear these or other phrases from those you love and those emotions impact how your conversations go! Knowing how to deal with these ahead of time instantly improves your communication.
It’s also important to know that communication is a lot more than just the words we speak. In fact, some researchers would say that as much as 95% of our communication is non-verbal – the eye rolls, facial expressions, sighs, gentle touches. Most of these things are automatic responses that we don’t think about and all of them contribute significantly to what gets said communicated and what gets understood. Becoming more self-aware allows you greater control over everything that goes into communication.
Of course, sending messages is only one part of the equation. Receiving messages – listening – is just as important. As therapists, sometimes we consider ourselves professional listeners. It’s definitely a skill that can – and should! – be refined with practice. You can learn to listen like a therapist and, when you do, you have a few important roles.
First, approach listening with a sense of responsibility – in other words, it’s important to give the speaker your full attention. It’s also important that the speaker feel safe. Nothing will shut down communication as quickly as feeling ridiculed, judged, or on edge about what is going to happen. Belittling, cutting off, and minimizing the speaker’s words are all big no-nos. Third, when listeners reflect back to the speaker what is being heard, the speaker has an opportunity to correct anything that may have been misstated or miscommunicated. Sometimes, we react to things that were said in a less-than-ideal way instead of what is actually true. Finally, good listeners validate the speaker – listeners let the speaker know that they were heard and understood and what they said makes sense.
When your communication skills are developed, it opens the door to true intimacy - not just sexual intimacy, but a complete understanding of who your partner is. And, as it turns out, Intimacy is Everything.
More on that in part three!