We Have Talked About It A Million Times – Why Don’t You Get It?

As I pointed out in my last article (www.balancedfamily.com), one of the major complaints I hear from the couples who come to me for help is a problem communicating. I listen to the concerns and provide my interpretation about what is going on. After some discussion of my conclusions, inevitably one of the partners, usually the woman, will state she has been saying that for years.She expresses both relief that the issue has been identified and frustration that it has taken a veritable stranger to get her partner to acknowledge the source of the tension she identified a long time ago. What appears on the surface as an effortless consensus on a seemingly unsolvable problem is actually a dramatic shift in the pattern of communication that had developed over the life of the issue. In other words, there was a lot more going on in relation to the problem than either partner could acknowledge.

As Deborah Tannen discusses in her book I Only Say This Because I Love You, there are many levels to communication. Research has shown that less than 10 per cent of communication is the actual words that are used. The rest of communication is determined by tone of voice, facial expression, body language, emotional reactivity, and one’s past experiences with the other person. Usually communication about a contentious issue has an incredible emotional history which lies beneath the surface and contaminates the ability to find a resolution. In revisiting the same issue over and over again people become more restrictive in their viewpoint and limited in their understanding of the matter at hand. In other words, they take a stand that becomes more a matter of personal pride than rationality.

When a couple reaches an impasse on an issue it is advisable to go back to the beginning and start again. The first thing which must happen is for the parties to identify clearly what the real issue is. This will require some excavation of all the junk that has accumulated around the problem over time. It is quite likely that the person who first identified the problem was either not clear about the dilemma or was uncertain about the desired outcome. What I hear time and again in my office is that one partner wants the other partner to listen. It often becomes clear what they really mean is that they want their partner to agree with what they are saying. Those are two very different outcomes which, when confused, lead to misunderstandings and resentments. It is absolutely essential in communication to be clear about what is being discussed.

The second point which frequently getsvin the way of communication
is the emotional context in which an issue is presented.Communication is, by definition, an exchange of information about a particular topic. When the emotional attachment to a subject is high, the ability to exchange information decreases.What occurs is not communication but lecture, demand or plea.Information is traveling in one direction without a means of returning. The consequence of this unilateral presentation is commonly bitterness and defiance on the part of the party being communicated to. If this is occurring resolution of the problem becomes impossible.It is crucial to limit the emotional connection to make progress towards a solution. This is the shift that occurs in my office which allows for each partner to approach the issue in a new, more productive fashion.

@ 2007 Cary Home Times

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