Communication between people can be difficult, and communication between couples can be a whole other level of difficult. Why is that? Shouldn’t communication be easier between people who love each other? Let’s look at why it’s sometimes harder for couples to communicate with each other. If you haven’t read the previous Cultivating Intimacy posts you’ll find the first one on Redefining Intimacy and the later post on how Trust Is a Huge Factor for Intimacy to Build. To continue that conversation, communication is so vital in cultivating intimacy in your marriage or relationships.
When you communicate with a stranger or an acquaintance, there is not much at stake between you and that person. When you communicate with someone you care about (especially your spouse), there is more at stake like sense of love, trust, safety, or worthiness. We are not perfect people and we will absolutely, at some point, make mistakes in communication that lead to making our spouse feel hurt. A sign of healthy intimacy between a couple is good communication. Intimate couples understand each other’s typical phrases or meanings and nonverbal cues. What people often forget is that good communication needs to be developed between the couple. You may have met someone that is easy to communicate with where both of you understand each other’s communication pretty quickly. Even if this is not the case, it does not mean both of you cannot learn to communicate better. Here are some common blocks that couples encounter that may help you understand where you and your spouse are causing miscommunication or misinterpreting.
Stonewalling is occurring when a person withdraws from their spouse to avoid conflict. Withdrawing behavior can be done in a variety of ways: responding very little or silence, placating, changing the subject, leaving physically, or disconnecting emotionally. Partners may believe they are being neutral or trying to stay rational, but more often than not it communicates disapproval, separation, and disconnection. The short answer to stonewalling is to engage rather than disengage, but before that understand why you or your partner is avoiding. Obviously it’s to avoid fighting or uncomfortable feelings, but dive deeper and identify what about the confrontation is triggering.
Mind-Reading & Making Assumptions
Mind-reading is occurring when a person immediately makes an assumption about what their partner is thinking without even asking what they are actually thinking. They know more about their spouse than anyone else and understand their patterns, but they can fall into a trap of believing things that their spouse may never have actually thought. Another consequence of making assumptions is disconnection. We begin to make decisions on our own with our assumptions rather than include our spouse in the process. Don’t get trapped in your assumptions! Give your partner the opportunity to speak for themselves.
Defensiveness is occurring when a person tries to deflect a perceived threat by making themself the victim in the situation. Defensiveness between partners makes communication confusing and prevents either of them from engaging vulnerably and openly. Examples can be making excuses, responding to your partner’s complaint with a complaint of your own, repeating yourself without actually understanding how they are feeling, and whining. If you find yourself getting defensive, take a step back from the argument and try to approach it from a learner’s perspective. You are not on trial and fighting for innocence. Your partner is upset and was hurt by something even if you didn’t mean to do it. Hear and understand their hurt and take it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Good Communication Takes Practice
When we enter into an intimate relationship, not all of us know how to communicate at this new level of intimacy. Be patient and gracious to one another as you both navigate how to better communicate with one another. If you feel that you and your spouse are struggling to work out these communication blocks, reach out and find someone that can help you process through what is going on. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to shed light on ingrained communication blocks that seem like will never go away.