Couple communication: heaven or hell?
We are all busy with our love relationships: past, present and even future ones. They take so much of our time because they can bring us into a heaven made of fulfillment, love and appreciation. Or, just as easily, into a real hell - full of judgments, misunderstandings and fears!
We often watch love stories or dramas in movies, read magazines and specialised books about relationships and talk about our own relationship with friends. But do we actually communicate within the couple?
The first thing to keep in mind is that a relationship is not just made of two people, but actually three: "I", "You" and "the Couple". In fact, the latter is not just a combination of "you" and "I", it is even greater than the sum if its parts! The Couple is a third entity with a real personality, memories, feelings, favorite activities and more.
An example: if you don’t like Bob Marley but your partner does, then the Couple does not like Bob Marley. If you like Lou Reed and your partner does too, then Lou Reed is one of the favorite artists of the Couple!
Basically, what we have in common in a relationship creates a shared "We" that, as time goes by, grows into a more structured identity. But how solid is this identity?
"We have a problem" vs "You are the problem"
A couple is solid if it is close to a 50-50 (per cent) balance, when the two partners are able to relate with each other on the same level and respect their own borders.
I am OK x you are OK = we are OK
This balance is really tested when we need to deal with problems. If we are aware that both people share responsibility in creating them, then we consider the problems as "ours" and we get close to an equal 50-50 balance.
But if we consider our partner to be the problem or vice versa, it means that we are losing the sense of being together. That usually happens when individual unsolved conflicts, coming from the past, infiltrate the relationship and create a hell!
How hell starts
As small children we depend 100 per cent on our parents. This means we are not autonomous in satisfying our physical and emotional needs. If the emotional needs are not fully satisfied, then we might seek compensation in our adult relationships. If we do this too much it can become unbalanced and painful because couple relationships are no longer a 0-100 per cent dependency relationship but a 50-50 equal, adult relationship.
An adult relationship can support us to deal with our past but never replace a child-parent relationship. If this "infiltration" takes place too much, it might become difficult to communicate, because we become too "blind": we don’t see the present situation anymore and start to accuse our partner to be the cause of our infelicity.
Separation = loss of communication
As a therapist I have witnessed couples with small problems separate due to poor communication, and couples with big problems stay together thanks to good communication.
We can say that it is not the type or size of the problem that causes a separation, but rather the communication between the two people. Sometimes a couple doesn’t communicate or communicates only with the intention to hurt each other.
How to bring heaven back
To communicate means sharing how we feel in an honest and direct way. We stay with our feelings, good or bad, without craving for our partner to fulfill what we miss or vice versa.
If you are in a relationship that makes you suffer, here are three tips for better communication:
share openly, mark boundaries and give guidelines.
1. Share openly
Try to look inside yourself and check what really matters to you about your relationship. After that, take a deep breath and... share it openly with your partner!
It can be scary at the beginning because sharing reveals vulnerability, but after a while it will be easier and you will start to feel less insecure and more open. At the same time your partner will start to feel enough space to express him/herself freely. And, if you both do so, then a first glimpse of communication can appear!
2. Mark your boundaries
› "I don’t like it when you talk to me like that because..."
› "I would like you to respect me more because..."
› "I'm sorry if I hurt you. I acted this way because..."
Marking your boundaries simply means being clear and direct in saying what you do and don’t like. In expressing yourself, always try adding the reason for your statements, especially from an emotional point of view. Basically, share how a situation makes you feel.
Expressing rational reasons is useful in an objective way, while sharing emotional reasons invites the other person to understand you empathically. Paradoxically, if you set your boundaries and stay within your own 50 per cent, this can make you more grounded and emotionally understandable, and therefore closer to your partner.
3. Give guidelines
› "I would like you to talk with me in this way..."
› "I would like you to do this for me..."
› "What do I do that hurts you? Can you tell me what I can stop doing in order not to hurt you again?"
Always propose alternatives or give guidelines to your partner to let him/her understand how you want to be treated, without imposing anything. Focus more on expressing your needs rather than craving for your partner to satisfy them. In fact, you will never be able to satisfy all of your needs, but you can always express yourself completely!
At the same time, ask your partner when you make mistakes and how not to make them anymore. It is important to be open to your partner in order to make him/her feel that you want to change.
"Give what you need."
Hell and Heaven
It can be very distressing to notice you are slowly losing connection with your partner. But you can definitely do something about it.
We don’t meet or decide to stay together only by chance: many conscious and unconscious elements are connecting us. By checking what kind of personal baggage we each bring into our relationship and helping each other to deal with it, we free ourselves from pieces of pain and we become more open towards our partner.
"Pain that is unmet becomes suffering.
Pain that is met is not pain."