People talk about how important Communication is. More often than not the first reason people go to therapy for relationship issues is because they are having communication problems. Some state that they do not communicate. In actuality people are always communicating; we cannot not communicate.
Most of our communication is nonverbal. Whether we like it or not we are always sending out messages. The message received may not be the one we think we are sending, and thus we get into difficulties. We can abdicate being an involved parent, but it is impossible to abdicate communication with our children. Being absent from the family is received and being interpreted by the children. Everything we do is being processed and interpreted by each member of the family. Therefore we are always involved in the family whether we like it or not.
Children will interpret from conversations and evaluate behaviours, and as a result make judgements about their view of reality. These evaluations usually confirm their perceptions about individuals around them, and usually reinforce their prejudices. This is one of the reasons why every person is so different and why couples are communicating with each other all the time. Their interpretations of messages received are filtered through years of prejudices from interpreting messages and making judgements about people and the world around them.
Words we use and the tone we use are also important. They give us a window into the inner life of a person. Your partner may tell you that you are selfish, or loving. These words are meaningless to some degree. The partner needs to put some “meat” on the words in order for them to become really meaningful. For example, a partner could say you are loving; I experience your love when you touch me during the day and when you came to my aid when the car broke down. This allows the person receiving the complement to know what the partner is talking about.
Another example would be telling a child when he/she does something you do not like, and that he/she is just like a disliked, deceased, aunt or an uncle. This can give the child the idea that he/she is predestined to become like the relative and cannot escape being bad. This can also rob children of establishing their own identity.
Another example would be when we introduce our spouse in public. Do we say this is my wife/husband and give his or her name? Or do we give the spouse’s name and then say this is my wife/husband. Giving the name first would communicate that this person is an individual separate from me, and is secondly my spouse. This type of communicating reveals the mindset and values of the person communicating.
We can begin to see why communication is so important. We can think of communicating as the veins of the body that ensure the blood flows to every part of the body. When one part of the body falters, the whole body suffers in some way.
Our communication is imperfect for many reasons, as discussed above. Therefore we need a constant rhythm of feedback and clarification; when we get it wrong we can stop and problem solve, and make sure we go forward with greater understanding of our place in our relationships.
Bernie Dunning holds a Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and is a Board member of this agency.