Communication – the Key to Better Relationships

Communication – the Key to Better Relationships

Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.

     Rollo May

Yesterday was my (Tom’s) sixth wedding anniversary.  My wife had to work and we barely saw one another all day.  By the time she got home from a hard day at the hospital, she was dead tired.  I had had a long day at home with our kids and, frankly, I was really tired too.  So, we really didn’t get to celebrate our special day together.  But even though we were not together all day I still did a lot of reflecting about how far she and I have come in the past six years in our communication with one another.  Marriage takes work and effort as we evolve and as our circumstances change.  I’ve learned over these years to open up more and more, even to the point of my wife joking that she can’t get me to “shut up” about my feelings. 

But in all seriousness, I have grown in this skill and have learned to not let things fester within me.  My wife for the longest time held back communicating her feelings with me, out of a sense of fear.  She feared how I might respond, that it might be in anger or judgment.  Like a turtle she would retreat into her shell, peeking her head out to see if it was safe around her.  But if there was any sign of danger, any sign that I might not respond with understanding or patience, she would retreat again back inside.   Thankfully, marriage is a process; with the help of others who modeled healthy communication and who walked with us on this journey of growth and discovery, our communcation skills have grown better and better.  Now that we are expecting twin girls this fall we are in a great place together.  That is going to be essential as we navigate this new challenge in our lives.

That’s the thing.  we can always improve on our communication skills.  No matter how long we are together or have known one another, we can always get it better. 

June is the month of my (Michael’s) wedding anniversary, too.  We have been married a few more years than Tom and his wife have.  But we too, are constantly working on communicating in a more effective way.  That’s also essential for us.  Very honestly, the challenge of caring for our son and his multiple disabilties is all-consuming and encompassing.  His care often presents a significant challenge to us communicating as we’d like.  But we have learned to make time, to make the effort to relay to each other our needs and feelings.  It is imperative that we do.  Our marriage could not be strong without intentional sharing.  We know of too many marriages in which the presence of a child with disabilities breaks the relationship apart.  We have seen how couples do not talk to one another effectively about how they feel about their needs and situations and, unfortunately, it takes a devastating toll on them.  We don’t want that to happen to us.  So we work at making sure that it does not. 

It’s possibly the most important aspect in any relationship.   Communication is key.  We see it all the time – when people do not communicate well, effectively, clearly or honestly they create many more problems and conflicts for themselves.  But when we do communicate well we can avoid so many conflicts and create so much greater understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing and respect than we can imagine. 

We counsel people all the time about the vital importance of communicating with one another.  If only people could talk with one another and share their needs and thoughts openly and freely they could come to a much better connection that leads to much healthier relationships.

What it is ultimately that keeps us from communicating well? 

Sometimes it’s control – trying to gain control over someone or a situation.  We both know people who use the “silent treatment” to gain passive-aggressive advantage over someone else.  Rather than talk about their frustrations or concerns openly they let them fester or percolate on and on until they eventually explode – airing all their dirty laundry in one volcanic eruption.   And often, what they’ve aired creates more harm and animosity than good.  If they would have shared their concerns much earlier all the animosity would not have built up and the fallout from the eruption would not have been so damaging.

Sometimes it is out of a sense of fear.  We fear rejection.  We fear judgment.  We fear brokenness.  We fear conflict, because don’t know how to handle it healthily and without hurting others.   We fear openness, because we don’t like the hard task of actually working through and dealing with our feelings and needs.  We perceive it to be easier to avoid and bury our feelings than to actually talk them out.  But in the end the work it takes to continually bury our issues is much, much harder and unhealthy for us.  They have to come out eventually and it is much better for them to come out in a reasonable and controlled manner than it is for them to burst out in unrestrained anger and animosity. 

Do you see yourself in any of this?  How do you communicate your feelings and concerns?   

Does your communication lead to community that creates understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing of those you love?  

We’ll write about what we believe that to mean in our next post.

 

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