Is a lack of communication one of the complaints you have in your relationship? Does the communication between you and your partner often get confusing? Many couples claim that their problems stem from a lack of communication, and that they can’t resolve their problems. Discover the good reasons for this, what to do about it, and which forms of communication cause problems and which work to resolve issues and create intimacy.
Often, when partners are having problems, they say that the problem is communication, but what exactly does this mean? What are they trying to communicate?
There are various reasons for communicating:
- Sometimes we communicate to offer information about ourselves, such as, “I’m going out for a walk,” or “The dinner reservations are for 7:00.”
- Sometimes we communicate to ask for help with tasks, such as, “I need to move the couch to clean under it and I can’t lift it. Would you help me?”
- Sometimes we communicate to learn something about the other person, such as “Please help me to understand why you are feeling upset with me. I care about you and I really want to understand.”
- Sometimes we communicate to ask for help regarding ourselves, such as, “I’m feeling very anxious and I don’t know why. Would you talk with me for awhile? Maybe if I talk about it I will understand it.”
These forms of communication generally don’t cause problems, unless there is an ulterior motive.
An ulterior motive occurs when the intention of the communication is to have some control over the other person. When the intent of the above communications is to offer information, ask for help, or to learn, then there will likely not be any problems. But these same communications can be spoken with an intent to control. The intent to control will be communicated through a harsh or judgmental tone of voice and through a hard, closed energy.
For example, “I’m going for a walk!” said with anger, has behind it an intent to control the other person through punishment. The real communication is “You have behaved in a way that is unacceptable to me so I am punishing you by withdrawing from you.” “The dinner reservations are for 7:00,” can be said in a tone that says, “…and you better be there.”
Asking for help in moving the couch can be either a request or a demand, depending upon the intent. A request can be answered, “Sorry, I’m really busy right now. I will help you later,” without repercussions. When the same thing is said as a demand, the other person is not allowed to say no without negative consequences.
You can ask someone why he or she is upset with you from a true desire to learn, or from an intent to control. When your intent is to control, you will likely argue with whatever the person says, trying to talk him or her out of feeling upset.
When you are upset, you can ask for help because you really do want to learn and take responsibility for your feelings, or because you want the other person to fix you, to take care of you, to rescue you. People often want to communicate their feelings to get the other person to change, rather than to learn and take responsibility for their own feelings.
Too often, communicating your “feelings” is a way of making your partner responsible for your feelings. He or she has to change or do something for you to feel okay. When this is the case, your partner might be less than enthusiastic about communicating, because his or her experience is that you are using your feelings as a form of blame and control. No one likes to be at the other end of that.
Problems with communication will always occur when the intent is to control.
When my clients say, “We can’t communicate,” I immediately know that one or both of them are coming from an intent to control in their communications. They are intent on trying to get the other person to change.
Think for a moment what you really mean when you say, “We can’t communicate”
Be honest with yourself about what you mean by “communicate.”
Are you really saying, “I can’t get my partner to listen to me and understand things from my point of view.” And underneath this is, “If my partner only understood things through my eyes, he or she would then change and do things my way.”
So what partners often mean when they say, “We can’t communicate,” is “I want to control my partner and he or she won’t listen.”
Think about the last time you tried to communicate with your partner, or a friend, child, parent, or co-worker. Now, be honest with yourself – why did you want to communicate?
The chances are that, if you wanted to communicate about an interesting or funny situation that happened to you, or about your own learning and growth – with no agenda for your partner or others to change, the other person was more than willing to listen. But, if you wanted to communicate about your feelings of unhappiness about something your partner or another person did or was doing, he or she may not have been so receptive. Or, your partner or others might tune you out if you are being a victim and complaining about someone or a situation, and wanting sympathy rather than real help.
When couples consult with me and state “We can’t communicate,” what they really mean is that they can’t communicate about problems because one or both are not open to learning about themselves and the other. One or both are trying to get the other to change, rather than learning about how they are each creating their own problems or the problems between them and learning about what loving actions they each need to take.
Many couples, at the beginning of their relationship, say, “We can talk to each other for hours.” Yet later in the relationship they “can’t communicate.” This is because at the beginning of the relationship they were not making the other person responsible for their feelings, nor trying to control the other person. They were sharing themselves and listening to the other to LEARN about each other.
But, within a short time of moving into a committed relationship, they often stop learning and start controlling. Instead of giving and sharing, they are now trying to get something from each other. They get stuck in a system where they each want control over getting what they want from the other person, such as understanding, acceptance, time, attention, approval, affection, or sex. As soon as they try to have control over getting what they want, they are likely to get into power struggles, as one or both resists being controlled, or one continually gives in and then feels used and resentful.
While most people want to be in control, they do not want to be controlled. So when one person is coming from the intent to control, the other person may respond with resistance. Power struggles result when one person behaves in a controlling way and the other person resists being controlled.
When one person is intent on controlling and the other gives in to keep the peace, it may seem like the relationship is working. However, the compliant person is often covertly angry and may resist in another area, such as distancing sexually. When you give yourself up to avoid conflict, you generally resent the person you give yourself up to, which doesn’t create the emotional intimacy necessary to feel sexually intimate.
What do you usually do when you get stuck with someone and can’t communicate?
- Try harder to get your point across, talking louder or faster?
- Get angry, shouting to intimidate the other person into hearing you and agreeing with you?
- Cry in frustration?
- Feel resigned, give in and just listen quietly to the other person?
- Walk away or hang up the phone in a huff, withdrawing your love in the hope of punishing the other person into hearing you?
- Grab a drink or food to avoid your feelings?
- Turn on the TV or open a book?
- Ruminate about how wrong the other person is and what you wish you could say to them?
What happens within you and with your relationship when you do any of these things?
Generally, what happens is that you and the other person are distant for a while and then things calm down, but it may be some time before you and your partner, or a friend, a child, a parent, or a co-worker, feel comfortable talking with each other or being around each other again.
There is a better way to approach the situation when you can’t communicate.
Good communication and conflict resolution flow naturally when two or more people are open to learning about themselves and each other.
This means that it is more important to you to learn from the situation than it is to be right and win.
It is impossible to communicate effectively when one person is not open to learning.
Think about it for a minute. How often does it work to resolve an issue or reach understanding if one person is attached to controlling the outcome of the conversation? Yet how often do you keep trying and trying while frustration is building?
What would you do if you fully accepted that there is no way of being heard or understood when the other person is closed to learning, and there is no way you are going to hear or understand when you are closed to learning?
When you can’t communicate, the first thing to do is to check in with yourself and make sure that you are open to learning. If you check in and discover you are closed, angry, blaming, defensive or stressed, or that you have an agenda, then you either need to shift your intent from controlling to learning, or you need to accept that this is not a good time for you to talk. You might say, “I think I’m feeling too frustrated right now to talk about this. Let’s try again in half an hour.” Then you disengage and do some Inner Bonding work to get yourself open and caring and then go back and try again.
If you check in and you are open, the next thing to do might seem simple, but it’s incredibly challenging for most of us. You need to fully accept that, if you are stuck in communicating, the other person is not open, and that there is nothing you can do about it. It’s very hard for most of us to accept that we have no control over whether another person chooses to be open or closed, caring or uncaring, controlling or learning.
If you fully accepted your lack of control over the other person’s intention, and fully accepted that you can’t resolve anything when one person is closed, then you can take a loving action in your own behalf.
The healthy action you can take is to say, “We seem to be stuck in our communication right now. Let’s try it again in half an hour.” Notice you are not accusing the other person of being closed, which would be a form of control. You are merely stating that the two of you are stuck.
The challenge now is to keep your heart open so that if the other person opens, you are too. This means that you walk away with love rather than anger and tend inside to any sadness or heartache over the lack of connection with the other person.
If the other person never opens, then you need to accept that there is no way of resolving anything with that person, and you need to open to learning about how to take loving care of yourself in the face of that truth.
Staying opening to learning and being able to truly listen to another is a very important skill to develop.
When you really desire to understand another, you move into an intent to learn – both about yourself and about them. When you really want to deeply know another, you listen carefully and mirror back to them what you hear them saying and feeling. It is not a matter of agreeing with them, but of understanding them. It is not about changing them or changing yourself, but about really hearing them and attempting to see the world through their eyes – understanding the good reasons they have for feeling and behaving as they do. If they are very upset and are available for a loving hug, this can be a big help in calming the distressed energy, letting them know they are not alone.
True listening is an act of giving with no expectation of anything in return. It is a kind and loving way to interact with someone you care about. It is a great gift.
Sometimes, the best thing to do when you don’t seem to be able to solve problems is to let go of problem solving.
“We never seem to be able to solve any problems,” my client Kaylee told me in a Zoom session. “Every time we sit down to solve a problem, we end up fighting. It doesn’t really matter what it is about – it always ends up the same. Is this normal? Aren’t couples supposed to be able to solve problems?”
“Kaylee,” I asked, “who usually initiates problem-solving talks?”
“When you ask Hayden to talk with you about a problem, how does he usually react?” I asked.
“He usually rolls his eyes, but he sits down with me,” she said.
“Do you have any idea why he rolls his eyes?” I asked.
“Yeah. He doesn’t want to have to change.”
“So,” I asked, “when you ask him to sit down with you to solve a problem, he knows that what you are really after is getting him to change, is that right?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she said.
“And then what happens?” I asked.
“Well, I tell him what is not working for me and what I think we should do about it and then we end up arguing.”
“So,” I said, “your intent in talking is to solve the problem by getting him to change, is that right?”
“Well, yeah! He is the one causing the problem for me!” she said.
“Kaylee,” I said to her, “as long as you believe that he is causing your unhappiness, you will continue to be unhappy. I have a suggestion for you to try. Instead of trying to get him to change so that you can feel better, try not talking about problems at all. Instead of talking with him, do an Inner Bonding process and open to learning about what you can do to solve the problem for yourself. Ask your inner guidance what YOU need to do differently to make yourself happy, rather than what HE needs to do differently to make you happy. After all, you are the only one you actually have control over.
“The reason you keep fighting about problem-solving is because you are trying to control him and he is resisting being controlled while trying to have control over getting you off his back. Neither of you are accepting that you don’t have control over each other – only over yourselves. With both of you trying to control, you get stuck in power struggles with no way of resolving anything. But if you focus on what you can control – which is you – then you can learn what you need to do to take care of yourself in the face of whatever Hayden does. How does this sound to you?”
“I’m not sure how this will work” she said. “Let’s say that I’m upset with Hayden for not calling me when he is going to be late for dinner. It doesn’t seem to be such a big deal for him to call me, yet he consistently forgets. And you’re right – I have no control over getting him to call me. What am I supposed to do?”
“What are you telling yourself that is upsetting you when he doesn’t call?”
“That he doesn’t care about me. That he has been in an accident. That he is having an affair.”
“Then,” I said, “of course, you feel upset because you are telling yourself things that you don’t know to be true. What if you told yourself, ‘Hayden is not calling me because he is overwhelmed with work, he is a forgetful person, and he is in resistance to being controlled by me. So I’m going to call a friend and go out to dinner. Or, I’m going to go to the gym whenever he is late. Or, I’m going to rent a movie and eat in front of the TV whenever he is late. Would you still be so upset?”
“I don’t think so!” she said. “I’m going to try this. I feel better already!”
Another issue with communication is that quite often, what you say isn’t what people hear.
Communication between partners often gets confusing, and there is a very good reason for this. Most of the time, the words we use have far less impact than the energy behind the words. Therefore, what you say is often not what the other person hears.
We are back to intention, because the energy behind a communication is determined by our intention. The difference in energy between the intent to control and the intent to learn is what frequently creates the confusion in communication, and here is an example.
In one of my sessions with Joshua, he complained about the fact that his wife, Joan, often gets upset with him over seemingly minor issues. A recent conflict had occurred over a book she was reading. He had asked her why she was reading that particular book, and she had responded to him with irritation.
“Joshua,” I asked, “why were you asking her about the book?”
“I was just curious,” he said.
“Go deeper,” I said. “Was there anything about the book that was threatening to you?”
“Well…yeah. It was a book about women and codependency.”
“And what was threatening to you?” I asked him.
“I’m afraid of Joan pulling away from me.”
“So, which intent do you think was operating at that moment – the intent to control her or the intent to learn about yourself and her?”
“I guess to be honest,” he said, “I have to say that I was wanting to control her. When I think back on it, I think my tone of voice may have been blaming. Joan always tells me that she hates how much I try to control her, and I always think she is wrong about that. But I think I was trying to control her.”
“And she responded to your intent to control with irritation, which is what is happening frequently in your relationship, right?”
“Right. So what would I have said if I was open to learning?”
“It’s not so much the words as it is the energy behind the words. The energy behind the words, ‘Why are you reading that book?” is totally different when the intent is to control than when the intent is to learn. The same words can be said with a blaming, shaming edge, or with real caring and curiosity. It is your intent that determines the energy behind the words. Joan was not responding to the words themselves, but to the blaming and shaming energy behind the words. This is what is causing the confusion for you regarding your communication with her. The exact same words can communicate two totally different things, depending upon the intent. And the chances are that if you had not felt threatened by the book, you might not have even questioned her about why she was reading it.”
“Yes, I can see where that is probably true. Okay, I got it. I’ve been trying to control her and that is what she is responding to, not to the words I’ve been using.”
Joshua started to notice his intent. Every time Joan got irritated or distant from him, he noticed that his intent was to control. It was a big challenge to shift out of trying to control her, since he had been doing this most of his life in all his relationships, but Joshua was very motivated to change. He knew that if he didn’t, he ran the risk of losing his marriage. He started to focus on taking loving care of himself and his own feelings instead of trying to change Joan.
As Joshua became more aware of his intent, he was able to consciously shift his intent from controlling to learning about taking care of himself. As his intent shifted, the energy of his communications with Joan shifted, and their relationship greatly improved. Joshua was thrilled with the deeper understanding and intimacy that was growing between them.
Another thing that’s important to understand regarding communication is the vast difference between approval and appreciation.
Approval is something we give from our ego wounded self. Approval is conditional upon the other person performing in the way we want or expect. Approval is manipulative and controlling – we give it with an outcome in mind. We hope that the other person will continue to do what we want as a result of the approval.
Appreciation, on the other hand, is something we offer from our loving adult. It comes from the heart and is offered spontaneously as the heart wells up with feelings of delight, awe, joy, or love regarding another’s way of being. Appreciation has much more to do with the person’s true essence than with performance. We are appreciating their soul essence, who they are rather than their performance. There is no attachment to the outcome, no expectation that the other should or will continue to perform. Appreciation is a true loving gift, while approval is generally controlling.
Often, when someone says they want appreciation or do not feel appreciated, what they are really seeking is approval. It is their wounded self who is not feeling seen and appreciated within. The wounded self then projects outward the need to be seen, understood and appreciated and pulls from others to get this need met. Whenever I hear someone say that they do not feel appreciated, I know that their inner child is not being seen and loved by their own inner adult.
When we are giving ourselves the attention and appreciation that we need and we then receive appreciation from others, it feels wonderful, but it is the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. When it becomes the cake itself, then we need to look within and recognize that we have handed over to others the job of defining and validating our own worth.
When you share something about yourself with the intent of getting approval, attention, or appreciation, it doesn’t feel like sharing to other people. Instead, they feel pulled at to validate you. When you share something about yourself with the intent of offering something to others, it feels like a gift.
We can all challenge ourselves to be aware of our intent of our communication when we offer positive feedback to others – is it a true gift or is it manipulative with strings attached? And we can challenge ourselves to be aware of our intent when we share things about ourselves – are we being loving and giving or are we trying to get approval?
Next time you want to communicate with your partner, ask yourself, “Why do I want to communicate?” If you discover that you are wanting to get the other person to change, consider doing an Inner Bonding process instead – deciding how to take care of yourself instead of trying to get your partner to change. You might discover that you get a far better result!
When you each learn how to take responsibility for your own feelings, let go of trying to control the other, and move into an intent to learn about yourself and each other, you will regain your ability to communicate. You don’t even need to “learn how” to communicate! Good communication is natural when the intent of the communication is to learn, rather than to control.
This is what learning and practicing Inner Bonding teaches you!
I hope you take advantage of all the free and paid resources we have for you at https://www.innerbonding.com.
I hope you also take my 30-Day at-home Course to learn to love yourself. “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”
You Heal your relationship with my 30-Day online relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.
I’m sending you my love and my blessings.