By Terence Stone
Communication is paramount…duh
The third and final part of this article series has been a long time coming. In the second part, I promised to share my intimate experience of the hardships within my own relationship. Those of you who are frequent readers will know that I’ve done this already through a recent guest post on Tiny Buddha. The article received much broader exposure than it would have had I posted it here, and it was very well received.
I received over a hundred responses combined through Tiny Buddha, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and email. Readers thanked me for being so honest. Others shared their own hardships with me, and told me how helpful the article had been. The point is that those readers related on deeply personal levels, and of course…it got me thinking.
The point of the article I wrote for Tiny Buddha was that communication in relationships is paramount. Well, duh…we’ve all heard that before. So why did people respond so viscerally to my story? Well first and foremost, because it was so personal; but also because I wasn’t speaking about communication in any sort of tired or cliché way. Communication is not simply about listening, then speaking; speaking, then listening; rinse and repeat. Nor is it about fixing things.
Often we believe that when we get into a spat with our significant other that we simply must ‘communicate’ and the problem will be solved. That may suffice with trivial matters (though I’d argue that nothing is trivial), but the real issue is defining what communication means within the relationship.
Communicating without words
So here is the question this article series poses: Why does love hurt? In the previous two articles, the answer to that question is because many of us operate with a severe lack of presence, and as a result forget to attend to ourselves first and foremost (hence ‘being a wholesome half’). This may surprise you, but the answer is still the same for this article. However, let’s try to specify what that actually means through the lens of communication.
When there is turmoil in the relationship, there is inevitably sadness, anger, disappointment, fear…the list goes on. And how does all of that get communicated? Often, it occurs through body language and action. Verbal communication plays a very small role. For instance, if you take my story, my wife would spend late nights away from me, and I’d sit at home and mope. These were actions we employed to show each other that we were in pain.
Now, when our partners don’t acknowledge or seem to care about the signals we’re emitting, we feel hurt by them. When we feel hurt, the shields go up and the swords come out. Then verbal communication happens in the form of fits of rage and blame. Back to my story: because these communicative actions were going on unaddressed, we learned to be on the defensive at all times. So we fought and blamed each other any time we got the chance. It was all backwards.
It’s not that communication wasn’t happening; it’s that effective communication wasn’t happening. What we had to do was reorganize our concept of communication, and think about it consciously.
Translating action and body-language
It’s important to remember that our partners are not mind readers, and neither are we. Sure, we learn to pick up on the subtleties in behavior, but it will always remain vague if we don’t attempt to put words around it from the get-go. It is not easy, and it takes an enormous amount of self-awareness, but it has to be done.
The difference occurs when instead of simply sitting on the couch stewing in anger or moping; or spending long hours away from your partner, you stop and say, “OK, what am I doing and why?” Then, the communication channels are open. Maybe you realize in that moment that all you want is a sign that your significant other sees your pain and cares. Finally, you might come to the crazy conclusion that he/she may never truly understand unless you say something.
When we employ this process of conscious, introspective thought, we are stopping the vicious cycle of pain in its tracks. Then, we can go home to our lover and say, “You know, this isn’t easy for me to say, but I’m really angry/hurt/sad, and I think it has something to do with the way our relationship is being played out. Can we try to talk about this without devolving into accusations?”
It may not work the first time. It may not work the twentieth time. As in my relationship, there was unconscious resistance to this type of communication at first because it requires a certain amount of trust and vulnerability. If those things don’t come easy, it may take some time to work through on an individual level before you can come back and communicate in a conscious way.
The point is that if we make the attempt, whether we fail or not, the doors of effective communication have been thrown open. Only then can we begin to heal wounds and unearth the meaning of all that confusing body language and action.
Finally, I’d like to add that (unless you are some kind of super-human) there will be pain in the relationship. Often, many people take a defeatist attitude and come to the conclusion that the relationship must be failing. So what? Are you going to let a little bit of failure run you down? Suffering is a part of life. The aim is to find a way to end it. And that can only be done by diving straight into it. When we do this, we often find that pain can be our greatest teacher.
Wishing you love that knows no bounds, and the courage to embrace it.
Artwork by Unknown (Please let me know if anyone knows its origin.)
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.