I never fully realized how awful I was at communication until I left home for college. I met new people, I made friends of my choosing, I lived in the same room with another person, and I realized, I’m really good at not communicating. I’m a people-pleaser. I hate confrontation. You’ve heard it all before: the million reasons why it’s okay that we’re bad at communicating.
It worked for a while in college. I didn’t have to work on getting better at communication. I’d been fine for 18 years, so why change now? Then I started dating this guy. And it was fun. We went on walks and watched movies, and it wasn’t until we’d been dating for about three months that I realized he had no clue what I was actually feeling… ever…
It was easy for me to figure out what he wanted me to say. Why tell him how I really felt if I could say something different and make him happy? Convoluted, right? One day, we had a big fight and we broke up. Then we each went our separate ways over Christmas break. I thought things over, he thought things over, we got back together, I improved slightly on telling him how I felt, and now we’re married.
And they all lived happily ever after. Right? Well, yes, and no.
Marriage and communication is so much harder than dating and communication. You live with this person all the time. You share closets and cabinets in the bathroom, you share a bed, you have no personal space any more. You have to communicate.
What makes it even harder is that there are two people who are probably both really bad at communication, trying to communicate in this enclosed space that is now your home. Needless to say, we fought, we fight, and we will probably continue to fight. The good news is that we’re learning about each other and ourselves through this fight against (or for?) communication.
For example, Miguel is a painter. He thinks by talking. He’ll talk for minutes on end before he finally reaches his end goal. When I listen to him, sometimes I have to work to follow his line of thinking, decipher from his words the true point, and not get derailed by a passing thought he has.
Meanwhile, I’m a pointer. Everything I say has been fully thought out. The one sentence I say is all I need to say to make my point. One sentence, and I’m done. I’ve communicated all I need to communicate.
Miguel talks to me and I get lost. I talk to Miguel and he gets confused and concerned about why I’m not talking to him. Fights ensue.
Thankfully, we’ve been at this for three years now, and we’re getting better. I know to patiently listen to Miguel, and I (sometimes) know where to go to find the meat of his thoughts and feelings. He knows to take what I say as what I mean and feel and ask me questions to better understand what I said.
The point, I guess, is to recognize that communication is hard. Communication generally isn’t fun. But communication takes practice. The more you practice, the better it will get, the easier it will get, and it will become fun. Who doesn’t want to be able to talk well to the people they love?
Image from Quick and Dirty Tips. “How Can You Tell When Dogs Are Playing Fair?” Jolanta Benal.