Far too often I hear people throwing around the word without really knowing the meaning of it. It’s one of the most important aspects of any functioning relationship, and you should pay it good attention if you want your partner to be satisfied with you.
If you read other dating blogs, watch daytime talk television, or have half a brain, then by now you should be pretty aware that communication is a pretty big deal. Time and time again you hear about relationships falling apart because “we just weren’t communicating anymore.”
In movies a lack of communication is portrayed as married couples who literally don’t speak to one another anymore. They sit at a restaurant in complete silence, not playing footsie or making eye contact, and are shocked to hear the sound of the waiter’s voice.
“Can I take your order?”
“Yes, I would like a slice of your finest steak with a side of divorce.”
Cue additional awkward silence.
Come on, movies. To Hollywood and many others, communication is the act of speaking and perhaps, maybe hearing in return. However, communication means so much more than having words come out of your mouth and go into another person’s ear. To me, communication means constantly striving to explain and understand.
The act of saying something is pretty pointless unless someone is listening. When my mom used to say, “Algernon, take out the trash” and I responded with “uh-huh” while reading my book – all I was doing there was hearing her. An hour later my mom is yelling at me for not having done the chores she told me to do. The same kind of things holds true with your partner – if someone is trying to communicate something, things will only be accomplished if you actually listen.
The Talking Bit
One half of communication is the talking part – where you explain how and why you feel something. As the person initiating communication, you have a serious burden of being responsible for explaining yourself. Initiating communication can mean a million things. It can mean bluntly saying “Hey, I need to talk to you.” It could also mean letting out a heavy, exasperated sigh to goad your partner into asking “What’s wrong?” It should come as no surprise that I think the former is a stronger initiation, but people often initiate with something more subtle. As the communicator, it is your job to be clear that you want to speak. Once the lines of communication have been opened, it’s your job to follow up as well. You shouldn’t be initiating a conversation with “What’s bothering you?” Then you are putting the pressure on your partner. In my opinion, it’s much stronger to initiate with specificity: “Hey, I’m not sure if I’m reading you wrong, but you’ve seemed a little off since Monday. Are you mad about the fact that I had dinner with my (female) coworker? Or is it something else?”
By beginning with a specific thought, it shows that you’ve put effort and thought into having this conversation. And you should be putting thought into your conversations. If something is eating away at you, be productive with that time. Think about ways the conversation will go and how that makes you feel BEFORE you even have the conversation. That way, when you finally begin to talk about things, you don’t suddenly end the conversation with “I just don’t know what to think about that.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, once you’ve initiated the conversation or finished a point you are making – now it’s time to step back and listen. (note: this is one of my largest communication flaws, I tend to go on at length to make my points – which I suppose mirrors my writing style)
The Listening Bit
Whether you initiated the conversation and are waiting for a response or a conversation was initiated on you makes no difference. As the listener, it is your job to listen. The first step of listening is to shut the fuck up. There is nothing worse than having two people talk at the same time and begin to argue about who is cutting who off. If you start to say something and your partner seems frustrated because he or she hasn’t finished: shut the fuck up. Wait for them to finish. Then ask if you can respond. That’s when you can go to the talking bit.
However, while you are listening, you shouldn’t be sitting there formulating a response. You should be taking in what the other person is saying. Don’t “uh-huh” the comments like I did with chores and my mom. You need to understand what is being said, and if you don’t then you can ask the Talker to elaborate or explain a certain point, because it didn’t make sense to you. Be very careful not to be pedantic and attack people on a technical level. Communication isn’t about perfect prose or logic (though it is something to aim for). As someone who has been dating your partner, I sure hope you have some idea of what goes on in their head – make use of that knowledge to understand the position your partner is in.
Use the time when you are listening to PAY ATTENTION. If you get easily distracted or find your mind wandering to the nitpick-y points or formulating your own response then try the same trick they teach in SAT prep courses: silently repeat the words your partner is saying to you in your head. It will keep you focused and attentive to the context of the conversation. It will also help you to realize when you don’t understand something that was said.
Many arguments get out of hand because people continually cut one another off. As a two-person conversation, it shouldn’t be horribly difficult to navigate when it is your turn to be talking, or when it is your turn to be listening. As the listener the onus is on you to pay attention. As the talker the burden is on you to make clear, succinct points and to relinquish the position as the speaker so that your partner can respond. It’s important for a talker not to ramble, otherwise points will begin to be lost and it will start to become a chastising lecture, which is a forceful way of not communicating (as the talker is refusing to move to the listening role). Also, be aware that moments of silence are allowed. A party can say “give me a few seconds to collect my thoughts.” This is especially important if you are prone to bouts of rage. Take a breather, think about what’s at hand. When you are ready, begin talking.
These basic ideas just scrape the surface of what goes into a successful communication between partners, but it’s usually good to start with the basics. It doesn’t get much more basic than talking and listening, but somehow, people choose not to think about the things they say and fail to pay attention to the things they are being told. Between those two, it’s no wonder miscommunication is so prevalent in relationships. Best of luck conveying and receiving thoughts.