When couples begin counseling one of the most common difficulties I hear couples talk about has to do with communication. I often hear one or both say this, “We just don’t know how to communicate. That’s why we are here.”
Chances are people in this situation feel a lack of intimacy. If you feel empty in your relationship and when you try and get your needs met you run into resistance from your mate, you could surmise that you and your partner are having communication problems. Many couples then think if they could just learn how to “communicate” the relationship would be improved.
When I hear this I wonder if the word “communicate” is really code for he or she doesn’t listen to me, or he or she doesn’t understand me or even he or she doesn’t love me because if they did, they would do what I needed and I wouldn’t feel this way.
When people summarize their marriage or relationship strife as communication problems I know as a couples counselor that I am just scratching the surface of what is not working between the two. What I know is that it’s not just a matter of learning different words to fix the communication problem, it’s a matter of understanding what one is feeling and being able to convey it accurately so the partner can understand. I know that fixing a communication problem means getting two people on to the same page by helping the couple learn to be available for each other and that usually means helping people develop their listening skills as well.
When we grow up we learn how to do a lot of things. We learn how to listen to our parents or tune them out. We might learn how to get attention by being a helper in the house or becoming a good student to receive praise. Maybe we acted out to get noticed. What ever pattern we learned as a kid we probably still use as an adult. And why wouldn’t we. We would have no reason to change if we are not in relationship. But being with another person we are in such close contact the ways of getting ourselves noticed just might not work anymore. This is no one’s fault. Every one receives training when young and does the best they can when they couple.
But while being dutiful or acting out might have been successful strategies before we were a couple, they just don’t seem to work when we get close to another person in an adult relationship or marriage. This business of not communicating comes in when two people want to be together but they get so frustrated trying to get their needs met and they just can’t seem to understand why it’s so challenging to make themselves heard by the other person.
There is a distinct difference between being an independent person in the relationship and being part of a couple. That doesn’t mean you have to lose your identity, it just means you become aware of your partner and his or her needs as well as your own and you are conscious of this at the same time. That may sound like a lot of juggling, but trust me, that’s when a relationship gets really good. When you notice what you need, are aware of what your partner needs and everyone get’s what they need you are living in a place of peace and happiness. No more communication problems, both of you just taking care of the other, seamlessly. Now that’s true communication.
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