We often call couples communication the finer art of the shit fight.
This is because it can get messy at the speed of light!
Part of the skill in couple communication is in learning how to get better at staying out of the messiness.
Another important part is getting better at dealing with the messiness once you’re there.
Problems in communication are usually seen as the No.1 issue in relationships.
If effective communication in an intimate relationship was easy, everybody would be doing it. But if it isn’t don’t beat yourself up. Graeme and I have been doing it with awareness for years now and we still get caught up in domestics at times!
Couples talk is particularly difficult because communication here isn’t just an exchange of information and ideas. It’s the one place we can’t avoid the messiness of feelings, emotions and deep human need.
Not to mention that we’re communicating with someone who is extremely important to us. Someone that we don’t want to lose by messing things up. We probably carry fear too, about going back into places where we’ve been hurt in the past. Or where we’ve hurt our partner.
What’s really going on when communication gets messy?
Mostly what happens in moments of painful communication is that we make what is happening wrong. We put up walls around the discomfort that occurs inside of us.
Messiness might look like ‘something being wrong’, yet despite appearances, it’s actually part of your relationship growth cycle. Much relationship conflict comes from making the messiness wrong. And from losing connection with yourself as you try to avoid the uncomfortable feelings that result.
When you lose this connection, your partner becomes the enemy and you drop into strategies of defensiveness and protection. You seek control, rather than connection and understanding.
“Almost 90% of all human communication comes from the (usually unconscious) need to control.”
Saying What’s Real, 7 Keys To Authentic Communication, Susan Campbell, PhD
Exploiting the truth
In our human messiness, our logical minds try to help out by rationalising our behaviour. We exploit elements of the truth to get us off the hook of hurt. Speaking from our unfelt emotion, we go to elaborate efforts to justify our position. We also get very convoluted and irrational in our story-telling.
This is because our logical minds are compartmentalised, and their separate parts come up with different points of view. They can do this at the same time, even with totally opposing ideas! We then argue as if they all make sense. We take something that’s 10% true and elaborate it with 90% bullshit to make ourselves feel ‘right’ (ie safe). Graeme and I call this ‘going down the rabbit hole’.
Going down the rabbit hole
All this story-telling creates ‘mind-generated’ feelings that are mostly irrelevant to the feeling that was originally triggered. We’ve known couples who’d get into near-relationship-ending fights over the simplest of issues. This is because each person held tightly to their chosen 10% truth/90% bullshit story.
Get curious about the messiness in your Couple Communication
Rather than getting caught up in the messiness of your 90% bullshit and trying to understand it, try something different. See if you can identify the strongest negative point you’re trying to make (it’s usually about your partner).
This is where the gold is in your Couple Communication.
You can tell it by the sharp increase in emotion, the increased volume in your voice. It might be the knife twist in your gut or the desire to commit some kind of physical violence.
When you’ve identified it, counter-intuitive though it may appear, simply notice the response in your body that it creates. You might notice you’re tensing your shoulders, contracting in fear or wanting to attack, pull away, or go blank.
Take a breath in and slowly let it out again, feel your feet, get grounded in your body. Taking this deep breath helps to soften your reaction. Your body will intuitively begin to feel safe, allowing you to thoughtfully respond rather than react. Any emotional discomfort will then pass more quickly because you’re not resisting it or escalating it.
This will help you intuitively identify your 10% truth in the situation. Ask yourself what you’re avoiding in yourself by pushing this point? Most likely, you’ll see that it usually involves owning something imperfect and vulnerable about yourself that you want to hide.
At this point it seems easier to own it than to face going further down the rabbit hole. This is the gift of the messiness, it helps you get real if you know where to look.
Deflating your partner’s 90%
Take a risk if you sense that your partner is getting lost in their mind’s 90% bullshit and trying to hook you into their drama. Identify and own YOUR part in the 10% truth, because it will be there.
This truth is why the two of you unconsciously chose to be in relationship with each other so take the risk and show up here. Doing so will change the fabric of your relationship. Telling the truth, no matter how challenging it might appear from the outside, will reward you with an inner strength that is worth the risk.
The truth in you will help your partner to reconnect with what is true in themselves, if they can hear it.
Taking a breath and getting grounded helps you get present with what you’re saying and hearing.
It helps you realise that there is nothing you really need to prove, protect, defend or hide.
When you get this, you’ll find that love arises, making it easier for you to each change what you’re saying into something useful. And to listen more clearly.
This creates greater intimacy and closeness rather than misunderstanding, pain and separation in your relationship. It allows you to see your messy couple communication as a potential gift rather than a threat.
This blog is an excerpt from our book Coming Together: Solving the Mystery of Intimate Relationship, to see it click the link.
If you would like any personal support in your Couple Communication email us here.