Most of the time when a couple seeks counseling with me they cite the primary problem as “communication issues.”
I just don’t get where’s she’s coming from!
He shuts down and won’t talk to me!
I feel like I don’t know her anymore!
When two people come together as a couple they each bring his/her own history and way of being in the world. This individual experience can manifest in a language or way of communicating that on the surface seems quite similar to our own, but in actuality is quite different.
In the early stages of coupling, it’s easy to show genuine interest in another’s language, of trying to really understand what this new amazing person in your life is all about. There’s also the propensity to downplay differences for the sake of building a very new connection. But over time the earnest curiosity wanes, and all those differences once swept under the rug sneak out into your life one little crumb at a time.
An extremely powerful way for a couple to take charge of this breakdown in communication is to create an entirely new language together! Such a language starts with understanding the other person and from that deep understanding, creating new meaning that bridges the “you” and the “me” into an “us.”
4 Ways to Create the “Language of Us”
- Teach & Learn – Growing up in a family means instinctively knowing the unspoken rules of how to think and act with your family members. We then take these rules with us, sometimes without even realizing it or considering if the rules fit for us in our adult lives! Whenever you find yourself confused by your partner, or thinking of yourself as “normal” in comparison, it’s a red flag that it’s time to step back and learn more about each other. What are your experiences and beliefs about family, romantic partnership, emotions, and how the world works? If you’re often the one who shares easily, don’t forget to invite your partner to share, too!
- Love Languages – There’s a popular book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman that discusses the importance of loving your partner in the ways he/she experiences love. Not surprisingly, we tend to show love in the ways we wish to receive love rather than in the ways our partner wishes to receive love. This can cause a lot of “communication issues!” Imagine the sad frustration of giving and giving in a way that’s not interpreted as loving! And the disconnection your partner feels, as well. It can be helpful to start considering how your partner best experiences your love and to be on the look out for his/her loving gestures, too. For more information about love languages, visit Dr. Chapman’s website.
- Conflict Languages – Per Dr. Sue Johnson’s model of couples attachment as addressed in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), couples not only have love languages, they also have distinct ways of protesting emotional disconnection with each other. A protest can be nagging, shutting down, attacking, withdrawing, etc. When our partners act in these ways, we tend to put meaning to these actions such as, “She doesn’t think I can do anything right” or “He doesn’t care.” However, when you start to understand the deeper levels of your conflict, you can learn the map of your partner’s hidden wounds and protest behaviors. You learn that a nag or shut down often means “Please come closer to me” or “I feel helpless.” Please read my previous blog post “Navigating the Iceberg: Diving Deep to Re-Connect with Your Romantic Partner During Conflict” to gain a better sense of the real issues in couples conflict, as well as check out Dr. Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight” for further guidance.
- Inside Meaning – After putting in the time to understand each other in history, affection, and disconnection, don’t forget to be playful with your shared language! Inside meaning is an extension of the concept of inside jokes, and is a hallmark of intimacy. Such a language often organically develops from shared experiences and co-created meaning of those experiences. Being able to accurately read the subtle facial expressions of your partner, recall a fond memory between the two of you, develop words and phrases as shortcuts of expression, and use pet names all communicates: “You know me more deeply than anyone else.”
The co-creation of your very own language as a couple with all it’s intricacies and authentic knowing will deepen the intimacy between you and your partner in powerful ways. Don’t forget this can take effort, especially if your history is colored by significant disconnection with each other. Reaching out for help when needed is key. Couples therapists are skilled at helping you and your partner interpret each other and create a new language all your own.
All content and images owned by Amanda Bowers.