Sometimes it seems as if communicating effectively with one’s partner is an impossible task – overshadowed only by their ability (or lack thereof) to communicate with us.
What gets in the way? Why is it so hard to talk to the one you love and be really, deeply understood? That’s what we all want. In fact, I think almost every – if not every – issue that plagues a couple can be boiled down to one simple concept, one fundamental question:
Do you love me?
Followed at a close second by:
This is my challenge to you. Look at your own communication as a couple. And by communication, I mean everything – verbal, non-verbal, physical, emotional; what is said, what’s not said, what’s said between the words – everything. My guess is that you are usually mostly looking at things from your point of view. Don’t feel bad – we all do it. Even people who pride themselves on considering their partner’s feelings shift quickly back into championing number one when things start to go bad. It’s human nature – we want to protect ourselves. I can be open to you just fine, but the first whiff I get that you’re angry, or rude, or inconsiderate, or withdrawn, or (fill-in-the-blank), I’m going to pull back into my defensive position. I’m going to look out for me, because you’re obviously not – right? And what’s wrong with that?
Nothing is wrong with it. As I said, it’s just human nature. The problem comes when you want to defend yourself AND have a meaningful connection with another person. That dilemma requires us to stay open when we want to close up like a clam, to bite back those sarcastic words that are just on the tip of our tongues. Basically, we have to be better than human.
Are you exhausted at the thought? Me too. But wait – there’s good news. Though you do have to be better than your human nature, you don’t have to be better all the time. In fact, the hardest part of this “learning not to be human” stuff comes at the very beginning. That’s when you’re bumping up against your own fears that you’ll be hurt at the same time you’re trying to pry the door open to connection. And truth be told, you’re not really sure yet that the other person is up to it. Will they be gentle and careful with me, with the ways I’m trying to reach out and risk? Or will they stomp all over me, and if so, won’t I be worse off than I was before I was vulnerable?
Nope. Because you are exercising a new maybe never-before-used muscle – the muscle of intimacy. And even if your current partner takes a while to catch on (or even if they never do), you’ll be better for the attempt. The emotional push-ups you are doing will result in you being better. Stronger. More resilient – able to be vulnerable with someone out of your own inner reserves, and not because of their reaction.
But at the beginning, you’ll have to be tough. Not tough on the other person- tough on your own fears of being hurt. Remind yourself why you are doing this in the first place: to get to a new level with another person, where they really know you and you really know them. Once you’ve tasted it, you won’t be able to settle for less. So have faith that the reward is worth the risk, and be the first one to reach out. You feel hurt, angry, misunderstood? First try to understand the other. It doesn’t take anything away from your pain, but it just might move you both out of gridlock. Instead of playing a game of emotional chicken, waiting for the other one to make the first move, you do it. Just DO it. Reach down into the depths of your heart and find a place where you feel warmth for your person. Tenderness. See them as a wounded person too, someone who (like you) is really afraid of losing love, or of not being worthy of it in the first place. And since you know so well yourself how that feels who better to reach out and help them? Help by listening. Help by seeking to really understand. Help by accepting, even if you don’t agree. Ask yourself: “do I want to be right, or do I want to be together?”
More good news: like any good skill, the more you practice staying open when you want to be closed, the better you will get at it. And you’ll be amazed at what you see happening: one of these times, your partner will be the one to reach out first. It will blow your mind – in a good way. You’ll smile at each other more. Laugh more; touch more. It is truly miraculous what real trust can do.
So be the first one to risk it – with an open mind, hand, heart. You will not regret it.
More on how to stay open next time… until then, let me know how it’s going!

Author's Bio: 

As a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice, I see clients with many different issues. My area of passion and expertise is couples work; I am energized by the "a-ha!" moments, when the members of a couple understand their partner in a new way. I also work with families and individuals. What makes MFTs different is our ability to approach situations from a systemic perspective. We strive to understand people in the context of their relationship systems, as well as the systems within individuals - how their thoughts, feelings, and experiences affect their situation. I work with clients to understand how all these factors contribute to their present circumstances, as does each therapist at Laurel Fay & Associates.

Ms. Fay has a Bachelors degree in Psychology and Child and Family Studies from Syracuse University, and a Masters of Science degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Maryland at College Park. In addition to being an LCMFT, she is a Clinical Fellow and Approved Supervisor of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and a member of the National Association for Relationship and Marriage Education. Ms. Fay has given workshops on relationships to several organizations, including the University of Maryland Department of Family Science and the Maryland Psychological Association.