Your ability to communicate is probably the most essential ingredient to the health of your relationship. Most of what we call “communication” is not really communication at all. It is often blaming, complaining, judging, criticizing, accusing or defending. Often this type of “communication” is characterized with sentences that begin with “YOU” or “IT”. These little words have the power to place the attention on something outside of ourselves. You never listen to me. It’s always the same old pattern. It’s insulting when you talk to me like that. You’re a fool. As you can see, all of these sentence remove you from the equation and place the blame on the other.
True communication is making yourself known to another. It is opening up and sharing your immediate experience and your emotion that comes with it. When we put our attention outwardly, we are avoiding the fact that we are upset but fail to acknowledge that as something we own. We make the other responsible. In this way, the focus becomes more about trying to change or control the other, which immediately shuts down connection. If we are unable to touch in on our vulnerable, open selves and express what our experience is with “I am feeling” messages, we are unable to deal with the issue, let alone talk about it.
This is the bind that virtually every relationship is in at least to some extent. Can I really open up to my partner and be honest with who I am? We often answer “no” to that question because we are afraid of being vulnerable, we are afraid of being our honest self.
One fact that is not widely recognized is that it is impossible to not communicate. Whether we are aware of it are not, we are always communicating something. Every communication between two people has at least two aspects to it: 1) the spoken words that are being used, or the factual information that is conveyed, and 2) the unspoken words, or the statement about the relationship between the two people who are communicating. Consider the simple statement with the spoken words, “The dishes haven’t been done again”. A patner may perceive this sentence as “I’m so much better than you, you incompetent slob,” or “I’ll be glad to help you with this.”, depending on the tone of voice. The other might say the same sentence in a heavy voice that says, “I’m exhausted; please do the dishes for me,” a hurt tone that says “Look what you’ve done to me!” or an angry tone that says, “Damn you, I’m not going to clean up after you anymore!” The possibilities are endless.
The factual content of any message is usually easy to find. Either the dishes haven’t been done or they have. The implied message about the relationship is more difficult to understand. This is partly because it is often hidden and unclear, and based on the thoughts, emotions and belief systems of each person involved. Belief systems may define the relationship, how it should be and how each person in the relationship is supposed to act. When each partner defines the relationship in different ways, it usually results in a continuing battle of manipulation, control and power.
In every communication, there are always these two components to the message—the content and a statement about the relationship. More often than not, it is the unspoken relationship message that gets heard first and so it is important to clarify what is really being communicated in our messages. If I am friendly and responding to you lovingly and as an equal, you will hear this message first and respond accordingly. If I am self-righteous and trying to make you bad and wrong, you will hear this message first and probably react defensively. It matters very little what I am saying with my words. It’s my thoughts, emotions and beliefs about the relationship that takes precedence over every communication.
If I am surprised that my partner responds to me the way he or she does, it could be the result of not being aware of what I am really communicating. That is one reason why it is so important to acknowledge
and take responsibility for my underlying emotions. It is my unfinished negative emotions that fuel my negative thoughts, which in turn reinforce my negative beliefs, that in turn affect the quality of my relationship.