Why communication is so important in relationships.

Relationships have many different aspects. For example:

  • companionship - sharing interests and concerns, showing affection, admiration
  • intimacy - being able to be close to each other, to comfort and be comforted, and to be open and honest with each other
  • organising a shared home and a shared life and making decisions about issues such as money
  • working together as parents in caring for children.

Communication is not just important, it is essential, in all these aspects of relationships.

What is communication?

Communication is one person giving information to another. The information may be about:

Facts - "I got a pay rise today"

Opinion - "I reckon overtime will be cut soon"

Feelings - "I'm really scared about being laid-off soon"

Communication is complicated

We are so used to communicating with others that we forget how complicated it can be.

To communicate clearly with your partner you need to be clear about what you want to communicate and convey your message so that it can be received and understood. Your partner must hear the message accurately and understand what you mean. At any of these stages, misunderstandings can occur. These can easily lead to hurt, anger or confusion. The good news is that with a little persistence, these misunderstandings can be easily corrected.

Communication is more than just talking

When we communicate we give a great deal of information without using words, by our body posture, by our tone of voice, and by the expression on our face. These non-verbal means of communicating can tell the other person how we feel about them. If our feelings don't fit with the words, it tends to be the non-verbal communication that gets heard and believed. Try saying "I love you" to your partner in a flat, bored tone of voice without looking at him or her, and see what reaction you get!

The message you send is not necessarily the one the other person will receive and respond to. There are two ways we can guard against this sort of distortion. If you are sending a message:

  • be aware of what you want to say. Especially be aware of what you are feeling about your partner or the situation.
  • use "I" statements. That is, say what you want or feel, rather than make a statement about your partner. That way, your partner is more likely to listen to you without feeling attacked.

For example try saying "I'm disappointed that you don't want to come to the cinema with me tonight" instead of "Why don't you want to come to the cinema tonight?"

Then, if you really want to know why, you can ask after you have made the "I" statement. If you feel any doubt or disagreement, or you find yourself reacting strongly to something your partner has said, first check that you have heard the message accurately. "You mean ..." This is called 'active listening'.

Blind Spots

Most of us find some experiences or topics difficult to talk about. Perhaps, it is something that reminds us of a painful experience, or something that makes us feel uncomfortable:

  • a woman whose parents always had loud and bitter arguments when she was a child finds it hard to talk to her husband about anything that might lead to a disagreement. She is afraid of any disagreement turning into the painful fights her parents had.
  • a man finds it hard to let his wife know when he is feeling vulnerable and, if he is honest with himself, when he wants to be comforted. He was always told as a child that men don't cry or show weakness.

The things that cannot be talked about often hurt the most.