I continue to be in awe of the couples who come to me for help with their relationships. It takes courage to admit that your relationship is not where you would like it to be and to ask for help. Learning how to communicate with your partner more effectively and to better understand what he or she is trying to communicate will help the two of you get your relationship back on track.
Oftentimes, one person says something that is not clearly understood by the other, as if two different languages are being spoken. If you are saying something in Greek and your partner is speaking in French, you will have a difficult time understanding each other. When a message is misinterpreted, a cycle begins. Your partner reacts to what they think they’ve heard, and you react to that. In this cycle, a pattern of automatic action and reaction will occur that you may not even be aware of. In effect, a negative feedback loop is tripped. The situation becomes even more complicated when something has been said that triggers an internal defensive reaction. You may not even be aware of the origin of the trigger. All you will know is that you feel upset or uncomfortable by the words that have been spoken.
We take for granted that we are speaking the same language as our partner. Even though we may be able to repeat back the exact words that our partner has said there is a subtext to the words. The statement may mean something totally different to them than it means to you. Therefore, a seemingly benign request, such as, “Please take out the trash,” may actually mean, “If you love me, you will do things to make our home more pleasant.” So, the message was never really about the garbage; there was an underlying, hidden meaning to the message that neither of you may be aware of. When we can slow down and be curious about the message that our partner is trying to send and why, we can be more successful in communicating together.
When we listen to our partner, we are frequently rehearsing our response and not really hearing everything that is being said to us. We listen through our own filter, which is a lens that colors our meaning of what is said. This filter often protects the most vulnerable part of ourselves.
To improve your communication with your partner:
- Practice being present when your partner is speaking.
- Listen with your eyes, as well as with your ears. Be aware of your partner’s body language. Notice what is being said, as well as his or her facial expression or posture. Are they congruent?
- NEVER assume you fully understand what your partner is saying. If you feel the least bit confused or if your partner looks like you just spoke in Tongues when you answered him or her, ask questions to gain clarity.
Deconstructing the hidden meanings and filters that get in the way of understanding and connecting with your partner is not a Herculean task. It does, however, take patience, practice and the willingness to focus on your partner and ask for clarification when he or she says something that you are not sure of.
Developing the ability to truly communicate with your partner will build a bridge to a happy and secure relationship. The good news is that you can learn how to understand what your partner really means when he or she says something. With the right support, you can also begin to feel safe enough to ask for clarification when something is said that derails your relationship.