Here is a short quiz to help you with a little reality check about your communication skills:

When you ask your partner: ‘Why didn’t you call me when you knew you were going to be half an hour late?’ do you mean:

a) I have worried about you for the last 30 minutes and I am so relieved that you are home I want to hug you all the time.

b) I have been worried that something might have happened, and I am mad at you for ignoring my need to know where you are, so I don’t need to worry about you.

c) I hate you because all you ever do is ignore me. I am the last one to be considered when you make changes to your plan, which just goes to show how unimportant I am to you anyway.

d) I had dinner ready and was looking forward to sharing the meal with you and the kids and you have let them down once again, I am really disappointed with you.

Over 90% of couples come into counselling because of communication problems. They even tell me they have communication issues when one partner just found out the other had an affair!! Fair enough. So, while we struggle with lots of different issues in our relationships, it appears that understanding each other is the biggest common problem for most struggling partners.

What you need to know about communication:

The little question at the beginning sums it up: Most of the time, we say something, and it is the tone in our voice and our body language that actually reveal the hidden message behind the statement or question. Since we are HIGHLY attuned to danger in our environment, the moment a question or statement is charged with unhappy emotion, we go into defence. You might not even know why it doesn’t feel good what your partner just said, but your body already reacted to the underlying message of ‘unhappy about something you did’ before you have finished processing the content.

Your actions betray your words – ALWAYS

And this is the problem: The tone of voice/gestures signal your brain on a different level than the words. This level is designed to respond swiftly to arising problems with the other person and kicks in which-ever defence-mechanism you learned as a child before you know it. And there you are: your past is hijacking the present moment. You cannot see or hear your partner when you are busy defending yourself against a perceived threat your partner just triggered in you, that really belongs to the past.

In the above example, the partner A who came late did not show integrity to their partner B at home – for whatever reason. Partner B got triggered by that behaviour and was reminded of a situation in the past which was painful. The choices a) to d) reveal different kinds of injuries and would each have changed the tone of voice with which the question was asked. In most cases, that will trigger the partner A who came home late into a defensive reaction.

Now, if you started reading this in the hope of finding a way to convince your partner to better listen to you and you have read this far, I am inviting you to consider this:

People don’t listen because they have been hijacked by their past.

Once that has happened, the reaction is not about you, it is about averting the perceived ‘danger’ that lurks behind your charged statement or question.

What happens if we don’t find a way out?

Most couples bounce from reaction to reaction in their relationship, thus digging ever deeper ruts or interactive patterns, that are not nurturing, caring, connecting or even safe. The end result are relationships that become endurance-marathons of making-do with what we have got. Or one partner may go elsewhere to find the aliveness and connection that is so sorely missing at home. Or both partners agree it just doesn’t work and move on… 

How to improve your communication pattern

The trick is to become present with the moment, to learn to be honest with yourself and your partner, to be able to ask for what you want because you know you are a valuable person, to give and make compromises because you love your partner and you know they are doing their best to be with you… Not an easy task, but sooo worthwhile to learn!

If your communication has some areas where it works well, start there: You can have a conversation and then finish it off by making a comment about how it made you feel that you just talked with each other in a friendly and open way. Do you feel more trusted, connected, relaxed, open, supported? Can you let your partner know and acknowledge what they did to make you feel so good? Agree to point these positive moments out to each other and from there you can begin to explore what it is you need from the other to feel more comfortable when you have a difficult conversation or just want to share something about your life.

This could be things like allowing each person to finish speaking and feeding back what you heard, before you are allowed to reply; keeping your voice low; speak slowly enough to be understood.

Then, you can begin to practice being more honest. The formula for that is simple, but not always so easy to use: You say to your partner: When you say or do…. I feel…. and I would love you to…

Now, as you know, many things we say to each other are not meant the way they are received, and so if your partner says something that makes you feel unwell in some way, it may not be what they said but what you heard that causes you to feel bad. The best antidote to this is curiosity. It is best to ask questions such as: ‘Can you explain to me what you mean?’ ‘I am curious about where this thought comes from; why you do this in this particular way’

Often, you will find that your partner is doing or saying something from a place that has astonishingly little to do with you or the thing that made you feel mad.  

Alternatively, if you are committed to start making lasting changes right away, you can book a free check-in session right away here.

Remember: Communication is unavoidable, unrepeatable and irreversible.

Treat it with care!