Tension, resentment, anger, arguments and power battles in relationships can quickly build up. They are the result of communication breaking down long before you become aware or willing to admit. Like a dripping tap – it builds up until the pot is full.
Don’t blame the lockdown for your communication breakdown; it has merely highlighted the areas that need addressing
We can communicate with anyone in a wide number of ways, at any time, in any part of the globe and yet we encounter difficulties in expressing ourselves in our intimate relationships. We find it easier to jump into power battles than to explore how we’re feeling.
When we feel victimised, controlled or misunderstood, it seems the only way we know how to respond is with an attack, the silent treatment or we hide behind relationship wreckers – affairs, addictions, secrets and lies. We struggle to voice our discontent, unhappiness or disagreements in a healthy constructive way, as a simple conversation between two adults.
What and how we say it
Communication is an essential part of life and particularly crucial when relating with a partner. It encompasses what we say, how we say it and, perhaps more importantly, the hidden messages we leak out.
Let’s use the example: ‘what are you doing?’
A simple general inquiry based on curiosity. If said in a clipped tone with an emphasis on the ‘are’ becomes a judgment or disapproval of the act, in other words – you’re getting it all wrong. If the emphasis is on the ‘you’, it’s a judgment of the person, as good as saying – you’re an idiot. And if the emphasis is on the ‘doing’, it’s a criticism of your partner’s general capabilities – you can’t be trusted to carry out a simple task. These judgments come from ‘critical parent’ and address your partner as if they were a child.
Our tone of voice is heavily influenced by how we’re feeling emotionally
Try this out with your partner, a friend or even your kids – think of something you really like, (don’t disclose it) and count out loud to ten; then think of something you dislike and do the same – notice the different in tone, tempo and where your voice was coming from in each case.
The way we express ourselves is heavily influenced by our life experiences and our psychological and emotional wellbeing. If we’re happy our tone of voice is more upbeat with a rhythm to it. If we’re unhappy or annoyed with our partner, our voice will carry the underlying tension that can leak out in sharp comments.
Deletions, distortions and generalisations
Another element of our communication we’re often not aware of is deletions, distortions and generalisations. Deletions are the omission of words or information in our everyday conversations; distortions are our way of filtering information to make it fit to what we believe or expect; and generalisations are our way of drawing conclusions about people and situations.
These three are best friends with voice-tone, and companions to conflict, resulting in communication breakdown. I see it often in my clinic practice when working with couples. I get couples to chunk down their sentences and explore the meaning and feeling behind what they’re saying and how it’s been received.
Here’s a simple example – your partner calls to let you know they’ll be home late and you hear the word ‘home’ but fail to acknowledge the lateness of their arrival (deletion); when they arrive you are angry because you prepared a meal that’s now gone cold and they hadn’t told you not to do food (distortion); you then launch into an attack accusing them of always getting home late (generalisation).
Taking the example above, what would it take for you to say – ‘I’m sorry X (insert name/love/darling/sweetheart), when you called I was busy and didn’t register the time you’d be home, I made you dinner, it’s in the fridge if you still want it’ – end of story, no argument. How simple is that?
Fear of not being good enough
Behind our communication breakdown is fear and shame of not being good enough. They are the foundations that underpin our behaviour and communication that drives conflict. Because of our fear and shame, we build layers of defence and hide from our true selves. We compensate by creating an idealised image of ourselves and of our romantic partners. We then project that idealised image onto our partner and feel disappointed when they don’t live up to expectations.
Whatever you do to fit into your partner’s idealised image or whatever they do to fit into yours, it will never work – not because either of you are flawed, but because both are trying to force one another into becoming someone you’re not – like pushing a round peg into a square hole.
Instead of accepting our partners for who they are, we embark on a mission to change them by using control and manipulation, however subtle. When we fail, generally we do, we bury our unhappiness and disappointment in denial-based behaviours – arguments, anger, alcohol, drugs, porn, gambling, affairs or self-obsession with looks (fitness, beauty). Home becomes a battleground to prove who’s right or the better person and highlight who’s wrong.
The fear of not being good enough is rooted in our early childhood and our relationship with our parents. Through our early relationships we establish what defence strategies we need to survive emotionally and psychologically in the world. We continuously adjust and adapt the layers of defence as we grow up and experience the hardships of life and intimate relationships.
The struggles you’re experiencing in your relationship now are a result of your ‘adapted selves’ – yours and your partners. It comes down to communication breakdown based on fear of being wrong, fear of not being good enough and the layers of defence strategies you’ve accumulated.
Arguments, conflict, lack of intimacy, lack of communication? What’s going on between you and your partner? Start with a relationship audit. How would you describe your relationship?
Create a list of what you don’t like (without judgements, accusations or drama), and what has contributed to how you’re feeling.
Having an understanding of your relationship wreckers allows you to explore what you can do differently.
If you relate to what you’ve read and would like help, contact Carla Devereux on 0121 745 9044 to book an appointment.