Part Two: From the “Me” to the “We”
In my last blog post, I wrote about the first reason relationships are hard. Wanting to stay in the honeymoon period – the bonding, the easy agreements, those intense feelings, that excitement – is one of the reasons that long-term relationships feel hard.
For those of you who were interested in the reason that communicating seems so difficult, this article might surprise you. “Communication” is not actually the problem. The issue is more subtle.
Yes, we think communication is one of the main reasons relationships are hard but think about it: you probably communicate with your partner every day. In fact, you do not have a problem communicating. That’s right- you can communicate!
Talking to your partner is not a problem!
Let me explain why communication is not a struggle in your relationship and what the actual issue is. If I ask you what your partner’s biggest complaints about you are, you can probably give them with some accuracy. I know this because it’s one of the first questions I ask couples when they come for a counseling session in my office here in Harrisburg, PA.
Most couples can answer this fairly accurately. I tell them that this suggests communication isn’t the problem. Certainly, there might be some problems with listening and being able to bring up things, but this isn’t really a communication problem.
So what is the problem and why do we think it is communication? What most partners struggle with is related to the first reason relationships are so hard — wanting sameness. We want our partner to think like us, to talk like us (either sharing a lot or sharing less), and to want the same things we like. We struggle with difference! In the beginning, these differences were minimized during bonding, but now, these differences loom large.
For many relationships, the real issue is how to negotiate, and while yes, that means communicating, there is a greater emphasis on difference.
Most couples that attend couples counseling therapy are going because their partner wants something different.
Think about your top complaints of your partner. Maybe it is that they don’t want to talk about issues and you do. Maybe the reason for your unhappiness in life is that your partner doesn’t show affection enough (for you), doesn’t like to go out with friends (and you do), or won’t save money (they would rather enjoy their fruits now and you want to be secure later).
Examples of Couples’ Complaints:
“My partner husband doesn’t like to go out with friends. He wants to stay at home.”
“My wife doesn’t show enough affection.”
“My boyfriend doesn’t want to talk about issues”.
All of these examples are really about difference. The problem is not that we cannot talk about things, but that we cannot negotiate differences and decide how to handle them. Sometimes we are too focused on sharing our point of view or we are not really understanding what the other wants.
Communication, according to Merriam-Webster, is a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. Most people don’t have a problem communicating. They find they have a problem bringing up something because of fear of the outcome. A spouse may have a problem with how their communication is received, but the real problem is more about negotiation of differences.
To have more effective communication around these differences, it is important to first, understand that you and your partner are different people with different wants and desires.
If you want to improve your communication experience around differences, ask your partner why they want the situation or the thing to be the way they do. In asking questions, you can understand what exactly they want and get a better understanding of why it is important. This would be a start.
If it is something really important to them, say a 9 out of 10 for them and a 5 out of 10 for you, ask yourself if you might want to make the sacrifice. If the opposite is true and you are really passionate about your desire, then please understand what sacrifice they are making for you. Giving up something at a 5 out of 10 is something!
If you are not sure how to go about negotiating difference or there is a real conflict of important values, consider getting personalized marriage counseling help with a Harrisburg professional counselor to help you deal with this issue. Schedule your initial therapy session now or inquire about the new relationship boot camp services available here in Harrisburg PA (completing one of these is like a fast-tracked 3 months of weekly therapy).