Why is communication in relationships so difficult?
Melissa: When Joe goes away on business trips, he doesn’t understand that I need him to keep in touch. He’ll call once at night, if he’s not out with co-workers. He’s so insensitive and gets angry at me for feeling this way.
Joe: She can’t cope with being alone. It makes me feel smothered. When I’m in meetings all day and networking at night, it’s hard to call. Why is she so insecure?
Melissa and Joe have the same argument every time Joe goes away on business. This couple is in what we term a Chronic Communication Circle – going in circles without a solution.
Why do couples get stuck this way?
Though the communication process seems straight forward, communicating effectively is more complicated than it appears.
As Melissa discusses issues with Joe, she translates her thoughts into words influence by her unconscious and also by her life experience, beliefs and even gender; plus her feelings about Joe. Her body language, gestures and tone create a platform which delivers her words.
Joe deciphers the words, influenced by his unconscious, as well as his perception of Melissa’s body language, gestures and tone.
Thanks to all this, there are actually three conversations happening at once.
One Plus One Equals Three – Conversations, that is
How does one exchange, between two people, equal three conversations?
The Spoken Conversation
The first conversation is comprised of words spoken – what you hear on the surface. Melissa asks Joe to call more. This makes Joe feel smothered. At this level, you might think Melissa is being unreasonable – or, why can’t Joe just call more?
The Hidden Conversation
What if we told you Melissa and Joe’s relationship began as an affair at work while Joe was married to Kathy?
Even though Melissa has no evidence that Joe would be unfaithful to her, their own relationship began at the office, and Joe cheated on his first wife.
This is the Hidden Conversation – unspoken and under the surface. They may be aware of it, but it’s silent.
The Unconscious Conversation
If we look deeper, we realize that there is still more than meets the eye – the “conscious eye” that is.
Much happens just below our consciousness when we talk. Some of it so deep, we may not even recognize it as ours.
This is the Unconscious Conversation. It’s a mental echo of our past – the baggage we carry.
Let us now share that Melissa’s father had affairs. Her mother stayed, despite being unhappy. When Melissa was 12, her father left for another woman and she seldom saw him after that. Today, their relationship continues, at best superficially.
Joe’s parents also separated. As the oldest child, his mother depended on him to help take care of his siblings. She also depended on him for emotional support. She confided in him as if he was her equal.
And that’s how one exchange between two people can equal three conversations: the Spoken, Hidden and Unconscious.*
If Joe and Melissa address their issue only on the spoken level, chances are they’ll stay stuck. They’ll blame and try to prove the other wrong to justify their own viewpoints.
So, how do couples break free from the Chronic Communication Circle?
Simple. They access the Hidden and Unconscious by having a FOURTH conversation. The one that is so desperately needed.
The Lost Conversation
The Lost Conversation goes beyond the spoken word, deep into the conflict to search for understanding and meaning. Here, right and wrong have no place as both partner’s perceptions are always “right.”
The Lost Conversation shifts the conflict from anger to intimacy, respect and curiosity as partners express their deepest feelings and share their histories; as they validate each other’s perceptions and become more curious about what lies beneath the surface of each other’s words.
When partners dive deep like this and seek to understand, finding a solution becomes easy.
So, how do couples (just like you) achieve this meaningful level of communication?
Begin by setting the stage to work as a team. Agree to:
1) Be respectful. If anger enters, break, cool off and come back.
2) Forgo assigning blame; right/wrong.
3) Look for understanding by getting curious about your partner’s perspective.
4) Validate each other’s feelings and thoughts. Not necessarily agreeing, but understanding.
5) Express hidden thoughts behind your spoken words.
6) Reach into the past and ask if the current situation is connected – especially if your response is very intense. And then “own” your reaction/history and share it.
When you both truly understand each other’s perceptions, then, and only then, problem-solve.
This sounds like a tall order, but the rewards are immeasurable! When you are able to “find” the Lost Conversation*, you’ll not only communicate better, but you’ll become more intimate. You each will feel heard, understood and loved – more deeply than ever before.