Communication — 23 December 2007
How to increase understanding when talking with your partner

Being heard and understood not only facilitates communication between mates but is also a deeply affirming and satisfying experience. Yet, comprehending each other is not as simple as it may appear.

Numerous small, and at times greater misunderstandings between mates become a source of frustration and discontent. Communication failures often produce feelings of righteous indignation, anger, hurt, betrayal, and even mistrust of each other. If your mate did not do what you believed he/she agreed to do, not only was the task left undone, but your partner’s accountability, reliability, support and even love for you – comes into question. Verbal miscommunications can lead to the creation of a less favorable perception of each other, and may cause fights and emotional distance.

The linguist, Dr. Debra Tannen, in her books: “That’s Not What I Meant” and “You Just Don’t Understand” deals with issues causing communication frustration. She states: “Conversational style differences do not explain all the problems that arise in relationships between women and men. Relationships are sometime threatened by psychological problems, true failures of love and caring, genuine selfishness – and real effects of political and economic inequity. But there are also innumerable situations in which groundless allegations of these failings are made, simply because partners are expressing their thoughts and feelings, and their assumptions about how to communicate in different ways.” She suggests that we need to find a way to converse more effectively toward mutual resolutions.

Ordinary conversations often begin prior to the release of an earlier train of thought. This clouds the hearing and memory of what is being currently discussed.

Every issue creates an “ideal” picture, image or wish each individual has about the outcome of the dialogue and each person assumes that the other is like-minded. For example, a mother tells the father that the child’s teacher called regarding their son’s class progress. The father agrees that they should call the teacher to find the details. Each assumes the other parent will handle it. When the report card appears with the child’s failing grade, each parent holds the other accountable for not following through.

In another household the husband suggested that it would be nice to invite his family over for the holidays. His wife agrees and recommends that the availability of the relatives should be checked. He assumed she, as the hostess and social planner will call, she expects him to do the inviting of his family members. They ended up in a harsh, accusatory fight as the holidays neared and neither has taken the steps to follow through with this invitation.

Both examples highlight how good intentions and agreements can go sour due to lack of a clarified follow-up plan. In everyday, ordinary life decisions couples can easily avoid many frustrations and ill feelings towards each other by following a simple three step process: 1.Suggestion is stated. 2. Listener accepts or modifies the idea after clearing his/her mind from other concerns. 3. Action plan is stated and verbally repeated by both partners. If we do not re-state the understanding, we are likely to either forget or recreate the outcome we wished for- not the one that was agreed upon.

Research by Helga Noice of Elmhurst College and Tony Noice of Indiana State University regarding acting and memory found that: “students who studied material by imagining conveying its meaning to somebody else who needed the information showed higher retention than those who tried to memorize the material by rote”. They concluded: “It is a principle that can be applied off-stage as well as on”.

In relationship communication the above principle, when utilized, can breed deep understanding and easier communication.

• When addressed by your partner, clear your mind of other thoughts and be present to the current content.
• Expect that you and your partner are going to have a different view, understanding, and wishes about most matters you discuss. Even when you agree the process is not clear until specified.
• Realize that gender, personal history, upbringing, psychological makeup, current concern and many other factors, hinder easy understanding of each other’s communication.
• Attempt to convey the information to your partner as you would to a person who is unaware of your needs and wishes.
• Repeat your partner’s statements by imagining his/her intended meaning. This way you are likely to more readily recall your mutual agreements and execute your part well. Your life will be smoother and your love stronger. Shared understanding intensifies intimacy.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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