Effective communication, the accurate sharing of significant information about each other, is the cement that holds a relationship together — permitting both partners to build upon what each has to contribute, until they’ve created a unique structure that is different from and bigger than the sum of its parts.
Just as two rope climbers, respecting each other’s skills, can belay and secure each other to scale a mountain that neither could climb alone, so trusted lines of communication can enable both partners to discover and activate hidden potential in themselves, their partners and their relationship.
We’re always “communicating” in some fashion, of course, and couldn’t survive otherwise. But qualitative growth and fulfillment requires that we learn to communicate accurately not only about the practical realities of the objective world but also about the subjective realities of our inner world — our feelings and perceptions, hopes and fears, values and goals. To do so, we must:
Have sufficient self-awareness and self-understanding to be in touch with what we really do feel/believe/want — that is, know what message we want to send;
Have sufficient self-acceptance and self-confidence to take the risk of disclosing what’s inside without being absolutely certain that the other person will understand; and
Be able to use all of the verbal and non-verbal signals necessary to transmit that message so clearly that it means precisely the same thing to the person receiving it as it does to us.
Even in the best of situations, when our partner shares our desire to communicate in this fashion, there are many potential pitfalls:
- Some words, especially those dealing with subjective states and feelings, have many shades of meaning;
- Some kinds of experience and feeling simply cannot be adequately described by words alone;
- Most of us have fallen into the habit of using words as weapons (for attack or defense) rather than as tools (for the sharing of information); and
- Unless we really do know what we’re feeling and are prepared to be honest about it, we can unconsciously confuse the issue by sending contradictory messages — with the words “saying” one thing while our tone of facial expression or body posture says another. This usually happens when, for whatever reason, our self-esteem is low enough to make it impossible for us to be “straight” with ourselves.
Many of these problems can be overcome by the technique of “shared meaning,” a skill taught in many leading marriage and relationship education programs.
Accurate self-awareness is a vital precedent to accurate communication.
~ Lori Heyman Gordon