What Do We Do When We Don’t Speak The Same Language?
This is not a post about people speaking two different languages such as English and Spanish. This is a story about couples that talk to each other but it feels as if they just don’t speak the same language; they talk but they can’t hear each other, as if both are speaking in a foreign dialect. Couples who fall into this category try to communicate but usually end up giving up because it gets too frustrating. Both people want to get their points across but it’s so difficult many couples just stop trying.
This is more common than you might think. I often see couples come into my office for counseling; they will look at me as if I am a translator and can help them decipher their partner and help them understand each other. They both hope that I can bridge the gap that’s been keeping them separate, sometimes for a long time.
Most couples in this predicament have spent a lot of time trying to fix the problem. They’ve also probably grown tired of trying because they each feel as if they already know what the other person is going to say and they just don’t want to hear it. In this case they often just stop talking to them. These couples are at an impasse, and that’s not uncommon either.
Each person had needs that have not been met. They each want to convey something to the other person, only they don’t know how. They have been trying to accomplish this, maybe for years and they are so tired of trying they have just given up and accepted that this is how they are going to feel in the relationship… frustrated, disappointed, discouraged.
When people have been living with this situation for a long period of time it’s not uncommon for one or the other to say, “It’s not working.” The truth is; it’s not. This relationship is not working in terms of two people feeling good about it and each other. That’s why counseling can be helpful. As a marriage and family therapist in private practice in Long Beach, California I am able to hear what’s missing. I can understand what a conversation would sound like if the couple was having one where each got his and her point across and could be heard.
When I meet with a couple in this kind of situation I start by asking each to tell me about their life. As a third party I have no trouble hearing each as individuals. I gather information and then I help them decode what they can’t seem to hear or understand about the other. Since I am not invested in the outcome of what I am hearing I can easily investigate what one person is trying to say to the other. Sometimes it sounds like, “He never listens to me,” or “She always nags me.”
These complaints are loaded with emotions. It’s not just the words I am interested in; it’s what feelings accompany the discomfort. I often can hear what is missing, which usually encompasses longing or attention. When she says “He never listens”, I hear a longing to feel valued. When he says “She always nags”, I hear “I feel invisible.” Some of what’s not being said could sound like this, the wife wants to be heard when she tells her husband about something. The husband wants the wife to understand that he doesn’t feel appreciated. It’s very frustrating to live in a relationship where you don’t feel your partner values or appreciates you. These are important aspects of a good partnership.
Couples that find themselves in this sort of struggle are in need of new ways to communicate to get their points across. To achieve this, each person has to do some internal work to learn what they need. When each person knows what he or she needs they can then ask for it from the other person – instead of just being upset because they are not getting it. No more expecting from the partner, no more disappointment and loneliness either. Just two people relating openly and honestly about how they feel and what they would like.
When couples do this, then they get true communication, where each person can be heard. And that’s a whole lot easier than speaking a foreign language.
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