What “We Don’t Communicate” Really Means

Monday, November 15th, 2010 at 5:54 pm

What “We Don’t Communicate” Really Means

Part I

This is the first of a multi-part series spotlighting some of the more common and complex,  hard to break communication patterns most couples encounter at one time or another as they manage conflict.

After thirty years in practice,  I notice the two most frequently made opening comments in my office in the first meeting are:

“We don’t communicate,” and, “We need communication tools.”  This post will address “we don’t communicate,” and the next post will cover “we need communication tools.”

“We don’t communicate”  is vague and general, but telling, nonetheless.  It tells me one partner speaks for both.  Even if both agree with the statement, it still doesn’t provide any information about the specific talking and listening difficulties.

It also indicates each partner may be having difficulty taking responsibility for the difficulties in their communication process.  When couples speak as a “we,” it often indicates they are locked in an ineffective pattern that has not been defined, and therefore not addressed.

After exploring with hundreds of couples what “we don’t communicate” meant to them, couples learned they were communicating a great deal, sometimes too much.  Many did not realize how much, or what, they really were communicating.

In some instances, many individuals weren’t even sure what they wanted to say because they did not know what they felt or thought when under stress.  Obviously not the best foundation for being understood.

Body language communicates at least as much as our words.  Unless our words and body language are congruent, any particular message is both complex, and confusing, at best.

Even moments of silence don’t necessarily mean we are not communicating. In short, it is virtually impossible to not communicate.

The speaker hears words leaving their mouth, but frequently is blind to the impact of their tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and eye movements. While absolutely certain what she/he said, it is not always obvious to the listener.

“We don’t communicate,” therefore, can mean “message sent , message not received.”  It can mean one “message sent, something different received.” Without  listening partner clarification, the odds of being misunderstood  skyrocket, setting the stage for an ineffective and very frustrating dialog.  Blame and accusation are likely to follow, and the pattern will repeat.

Reducing the odds of being misunderstood occurs when either the speaker asks the listener what was heard, or the listener offers their interpretation.

Eventually, the couple arrives at a ‘what we have here is a failure to communicate’ moment.  But, in fact, there has been communication—albeit ineffective, but communication nonetheless, such as the following:

“Honey, I think we need to talk.”  What he heard—“You are SOOO in trouble!”  What she meant—“I’d really like to connect with you.” The speaker wasn’t clear, the listener

didn’t clarify.

If all of this seems confusing, that’s because it is.   Bottom line is this:  “We don’t communicate” means anything BUT “we don’t communicate.”  At the end of the day it means that neither partner feels sufficiently heard and understood following the conflict de jour.

How does a couple begin to sort out all of this?  There is much that can be done, but start with the following, and the pattern will start to change immediately.

To begin with, each time you hear yourself thinking or saying  “We don’t communicate,” stop yourself.  Tell yourself and your partner:  “I’m not communicating in a way that leaves me feeling satisfied.”  Get rid of the “WE,” and get with “I!”

Now “we don’t communicate” sounds like this: “I would like you to tell me what you heard after I tell you something.  If what you heard was not the message I intended to send, I will say it again, in a different way, so that I can be understood.”  Lots of “I” there, and no “we.”

As each partner assumes ownership of their respective roles when they talk and listen to each other, they break ineffective patterns. They show up with the integrity to express what they each think, feel and want, while taking responsibility for their roles in the old, as well as the new, effective pattern.  (Part III of this series will address speaker and listener roles.)

“We don’t communicate,” though perhaps not so obvious, has several meanings, few, if any, having anything to do with not communicating.

Wishing you a satisfying relationship!

Jim Hutt, Ph.D., MFT

©2010 All rights reserved

Next, Part II will explore the meaning of “We need communications tools.” Just exactly what are communication “tools”?

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • BlinkList
  • email
  • Faves
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • Netvouz
  • Propeller
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Bookmarks

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Spam protection by WP Captcha-Free