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Relationship Issues: Can We Talk?

“Once a human being has arrived on this earth,” said the eminent psychologist Virginia Satir, “communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships he makes with others and what happens to him in the world around him.”

Nothing could be truer when it comes to the pursuit of an enduring and excellent love relationship. The quality of communication between you and your partner can enable your relationship to reach the heights of greatness or stay mired in mediocrity. For everyone on the road to lasting love, some communication obstacles are bound to emerge. Recognizing them—and removing them—is a key for relational success.

Obstacle #1: “She talks a lot and listens little.”
Some people consider themselves skilled communicators because they can talk endlessly. But the ability to speak is only one part of the equation—and not the most important part. Communication requires talking and listening.

The best communication occurs with an even and equal exchange between two people. Think of communication as the two oars that propel a rowboat. If only one oar is churning the water, you will find yourself going in circles. If neither oar is moving, you’re dead in the water. Two oars moving in rhythm will keep you moving steadily forward. Similarly, great communication occurs as each partner alternately talks and listens, talks and listens.

Obstacle #2: “Whenever I share a fear or problem, he tells me how to fix it.”
When your partner tells you about being passed over for a promotion at work or the latest argument with her mom, chances are she’s not asking you to solve the problem. What she probably wants is to process her emotions and explore her concerns by verbalizing them. She wants someone to validate her feelings and offer empathy. Yes, there’s a time for giving advice—it’s when your partner asks, “How do you think I should handle this?”

Obstacle #3: “She won’t stop talking about whatever’s bothering her.”
Some people view conversation as an opportunity to purge. It’s a matter of proportion–they don’t know how much is too much. People like this want a sounding board, not a soul mate. This kind of “information overload” should serve as a red flag in a relationship that is still forming. When a person reveals too much too soon, it can give a false sense of intimacy. In reality, premature or exaggerated revelations are due more to boundary issues, unresolved pain, or self-centeredness than true intimacy.

Obstacle #4: “Every time I start to tell him something about me, he launches into a story about himself.” When it comes to conversation, some people are the equivalent of the scene-stealer in the school play. They keep elbowing others out of the way and hogging the spotlight. This is a clever ploy because it can seem as if the person is empathizing when in fact he’s really dominating. You’re left thinking, Weren’t we talking about me? How did the focus shift back to you?

Great communication starts with genuine interest. You have to sincerely want to know what’s going on inside your partner, and vice versa. This begins by providing lots of space for the full expression of feelings and asking follow-up questions to further draw out the one talking.

Obstacle #5: “She expects me to read her mind.”
Most men have no illusions about their ability to read their partner’s mind. But a lot of women, perhaps because they’re more naturally intuitive and perceptive, believe well-matched lovers should just know each other’s deepest thoughts, feelings, and wishes. If a woman is upset about something, she wants her man to know she’s mad—and why—without having to spell it out. If she desires more affection and intimacy, she wants him to sense it.

Although mind-reading earns big ratings on sensational TV shows, it has little to offer within the context of real relationships. Partners understand each other not by “picking up vibes,” but by dialoguing in a clear and direct manner. If you want to be known by your lover, it will happen because you reveal your thoughts and feelings.

Any of these obstacles sound familiar to you? If so, strive to eliminate them, and watch as you and your lover connect at deeper and deeper levels.