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Communication: The Key to a Healthy Relationship Print E-mail
Deborah Chaddock Brown   
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Communication: The Key to a Healthy RelationshipIn a recent Dear Abby column one woman wrote that she had been married for 13 years and no matter what she did, he wouldn’t communicate. She then asked a soul searching question that she must have agonized over for months: “Is a lack of communication enough of a reason to end a marriage?”

After all, (if you read between the lines) he didn’t beat her or cheat on her or do drugs or abuse the children. Is silence enough of a punishment to call it quits?

Dear Abby answered that communication is the foundation of a healthy relationship and without it, everything else about the relationship becomes poisoned. Wow. Dear Abby went on to say that the woman needed to decide if she was willing to live a life of isolation. Communication is so important that the lack of it is defined as isolation.

No laughing matter
We joke about poor communication; cupping our ear and saying “what did you say” or bemoaning the challenges of intergenerational communication or the difficulties of communication between genders. There are whole comedy routines on our inability to understand the lyrics of songs. I once sang, at the top of my lungs, the new Huey Lewis & the News song “I wanna new truck. One that won’t make me sick.” For those of you who are not familiar, the actual song is “I Want a New Drug.”

Hey – you say po-tay-toe and I say patata. You say knee-ther and I say n–eye-ther.

We tell our kids, “do as I say, not as I do.” We tell our girlfriends “he just doesn’t understand me.”

Think of all the over used phrases associated with poor communication: Communication is a two-way street, You can talk until you are blue in the face, Give and take, Don’t kill the messenger, Meet me half way, It takes two, Can you hear me now?

Why is it so hard to communicate? Could it be that honest communication requires that we become vulnerable to the other person? Whether you are communicating in business, with friends or with your soul mate; sharing your thoughts, feelings and opinions leaves you open to their acceptance or their disapproval.

No one wants to be criticised or corrected or disagreed with. For years I carried a Lil’ Lulu cartoon in my Day-timer which read “you are entitled to your opinion so long as it is mine.” Often when we argue, rather than listen to the other’s point of view, we are already conjuring up our response. That’s not communication; that’s debate.

Effective, honest communication, whether in business or at home, requires three things:
1. A willingness on both parts to share honest information
2. More listening than talking
3. Empathy – putting yourself in the other person’s shoes

Willingness
It truly does take two. I’m a fan of ‘The Bachelor’, a reality television show. The premise of the show is that one single man is given the choice of 25 beautiful women as a potential mate for life. Each week he spends time with the girls, getting to know them and at the end of the show someone must go home, leading to the last episode and a choice between the final two women.

This past week the Bachelor visited the homes of the remaining four women, one, Agnese of Venice speaks little English. From what we saw of the meeting, the two had a wonderful easiness about them even with the language barrier. Of the other three; he was afraid of the parents of one, didn’t like the motivation of the second and the third seemed also to be a good match.

At the end of the show, however, he sent Agnese home. I was shocked. They truly seemed to enjoy each other’s company. “We just can’t communicate,” he said. “You are a beautiful girl, but I just can’t share my thoughts with you, it’s too difficult.”

Both parties must be willing and able to communicate openly. They have to allow themselves to be vulnerable. Particularly in the case of a spouse; if you can’t be honest, no holds-bard with your significant other, who can you be?

Listen
Really listen. This doesn’t mean keep your mouth closed but your brain is somewhere else, this means, really listen with every fibre of your being.

Trust me, try and fake listening and the other person will know. I once tried to communicate with someone whose eyes would glaze over. I knew immediately that either I had talked too fast, was boring or was talking about something that didn’t interest him or that he didn’t understand. So I stopped talking. The more that happened, the less I tried. Until finally there was silence every day.

Take turns sharing, but when it’s your turn to listen – listen with your mouth, your eyes, your brain and your heart. Listen between the lines.

The second part of listening is to ask questions. If you are really listening, you’ll hear things they aren’t saying. Rather than ASSUME (and Archie Bunker of All in ‘The Family’ told us what happens when we assume), ask a clarifying question. The other person will not only know you are listening, but they’ll know you care.

Empathy
It can be difficult to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, however, unless you do, it’s impossible to truly understand how they feel.

I was once in a community theater production of Goodbye Charlie. The premise was a playboy who is shot by a jealous husband, falls off his yacht, dies and comes back as a woman. Through the course of the play, he was forced to put himself in the shoes of the opposite sex, literally.

That’s not realistic, but if you stop – and take a moment to truly understand how the person is feeling or will receive the opinion you are about to share or what else is going on in their life that might impact the conversation – you will be more likely to have a successful conversation.

As a mother of two, I frequently multi-task resulting in a stressed demeanor. Inevitably my daughter will run in the house and say “quick, Mommy come and help me with…” Or my older son will ask me to listen to a song he’s written, never once noticing that my hands are in a bowl of ground beef mixing meatloaf and I’m talking to a customer on the phone.

Neither takes the time to check out the circumstances before requesting my time and attention. We do the same thing as adults. We are so wrapped up in what we have to share, good and bad, that we forget to look around us and see if our communication will be welcomed.

Have you ever had a really tough day and when you come home you just want to put your feet up and relax. The thought of company or going out is the last thing you want. Your partner will say, “What would you like to do this weekend?”

You immediately answer, nothing, because if you feel then, like you feel now, the last thing you’ll want to do is ANYTHING.

Take the time to assess your surroundings, the mood of your partner and what they might be feeling and take that into consideration when starting a conversation.

Build a successful relationship
Communication is the key, the foundation, of a successful relationship. Without it, we are living in isolation.

It may seem impossible to successfully communicate with your partner, but it can be done. My parents celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary recently, and as I think back over the years, they have had periods of good communication and times of loud communication. When it is at its best, it is because they are willing to share, they truly listen and they are empathetic.

There is one other secret to their successful communication – not sharing everything.

There are times when “I told you so” practically flies from your lips. You might feel inclined to offer a sarcastic dig or a one-up-manship comment that shows you are the better person. Let’s face it, sometimes you ARE right and they are WRONG.

Resist.

Pithy comments and quick comeback lines are fine for a sitcom, but hurtful in a relationship.

Open, honest communication is the ultimate gift of love we give another person. Share your thoughts with someone you love today. If it’s been a while since you’ve been able to talk without yelling – put your hurt feelings aside and take the first step. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Listen carefully for their answer and put yourself in their shoes for a moment.

You’ll both be glad you did.

Deborah Chaddock Brown, owner of AllWrite Ink, has been writing since she was seven. AllWrite Ink is a corporate writing enterprise focused on providing solution-oriented content that enhances her customer's brand message. She writes Word People Read SM. She recently penned "It's a Party, Planning a Successful Retail Sales Event," a workbook designed to take the thinking out of planning a grand opening or customer appreciation day event for retailers. For more information visit allwriteink.com. Deborah has two children and a kitten that inspire her thoughts and ideas.
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