I often have couples come into my office telling me about the communication fails they feel they have in their relationship. They feel they don’t fight fairly, or they feel misunderstood or not heard. Sometimes in relationships it’s the silence that feels most threatening to a relationship because the effort of even trying to talk it through was given up on years back. “We just need to learn to communicate better and then we wouldn’t have issues in our relationship anymore” – this is probably the most common phrase I hear when I ask couples why they want my help. But what if it isn’t actually all about communication? What if there is something else at play that might actually be causing the unhealthy communication patterns in the first place?
A relationship isn’t a relationship if people are constantly playing against each other – if each person supports themselves at the cost of the relationship regularly. I am not talking about making yourself a priority so you can be a healthy individual in the relationship. I am referring to feeling the need to win at the cost of having your partner lose.
When couples get together, the focus isn’t on how one can hurt the other or the need to protect oneself from the person they are closest to. It is on how they can connect with and support each other. As time goes on and injuries happen (which they inevitably do), couples will often focus on how they can protect themselves from being vulnerable so they don’t have to feel all their emotions towards themselves or their partner. This is where the disconnect begins and individuals start distancing from the “us.”
For those of you who have ever been in a situation where you feel disconnected from your partner, you can relate to how painful it is. It is this pain that often motivates us to try to seek connection, often through communicating, but often in ways that safeguard our vulnerability. Enter the breakdown of communication. When people don’t speak their actual truth and emotions, their partner can’t actually hear what they are trying to say. This then causes the individual to feel hurt or angry and to distance more. In time, it feels impossible to communicate and to feel heard because both individuals have stopped trusting that their partner will understand or support their experience.
Instead of getting lost in the art of communication, I think it can be easier for couples to ask themselves what it specifically means to be in a partnership. What does a team look like in extremely specific terms? For example, if you say supporting each other, what does support look like to each person? How do you believe you need to repair injuries that happen to a relationship? When does the well-being of the unit come first over the well-being of the individual? What does the unit need to survive? Understanding exactly what it means to You to be a part of a team means you can outline what you need to do to make that happen and where you need your partners support and vice versa.
Perhaps this weekend, instead of focusing on ways to communicate better, try to find a way to be a part of a team again. What would it mean to you to feel like you’re in a real partnership where you walk the road together? Let me know in the comment section below.