How do I communicate? Let me count the ways.
Couples in a relationship often are mismatched in their communication styles. Do you know how your partner likes receiving information from you? Further, have you let your partner know how you would like to be communicated with? It seems basic, but in my practice as a counselor, I see that disagreements are often a result of ineffective communication. Here’s a recent example.
Herb was the last person to leave the house that morning. His wife and kids had already started their day. He was dismayed to discover that there was no space left on the kitchen counter to pour a bowl of cereal. He put a few dirty dishes in the dishwasher to clear a bit of space and then made breakfast. Right before leaving for the day, he placed a yellow sticky note on the counter, reminding all family members to put their dishes in the dishwasher. Typical of most men, his goal was to fix the problem.
When he arrived home that evening, his wife, Ann, approached him with the sticky on her palm. She raised her hand up to eye level and said, “Why can’t you just ask us?”
Herb was confused. He’d merely wanted to solve a problem. But to Ann, getting a note felt impersonal and like a rebuke.
Communication comes in many shapes, sizes, and packages. Here are some of the ways civilized human beings use to communicate:
- Spoken words
- Written words/notes/letters/cards
- Text messages
- Facial expressions
Is there one perfect way? What is important is to know how your spouse wants to be communicated with. If he or she needs direct, verbal communication, then a sticky note will not do. Your spouse may need information personalized, with a hug or other touch experience. The time of day you discuss things together might matter. Your spouse may be a perky morning person, and you may be more awake in the evening.
In contrast, if you understand better when things are in writing, perhaps a written note is most effective. Perhaps you know that you don’t have great listening or focusing ability, and that your partner’s verbal statements get lost somewhere in time. For you, having a note would be a reminder.
It all boils down to the fact that we need to know what our audience prefers and how they best process information. In some cases a sticky note might be effective, but in the example case, Ann was offended by the note and said so. Herb was unable to see what he had done wrong. It made perfect sense to him. But next time, Herb knew to come to Ann and the kids directly with whatever concerns he might have.
Find out the methods of communication that work for you and your partner. Have a conversation and exchange information on how you best process ideas and requests. Know your sensory and auditory limitations and make them known to the people close to you. With a plan like this, you will be ahead of the curve and not end up in conflict or misunderstandings. Then you will be able to concentrate on the things that really matter: the two of you!