When partners are having problems, they often say that the problem is communication. What exactly does this mean? What are they trying to communicate?
There are various reasons for communicating:
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Sometimes we communicate to offer information about ourselves, such as, "I'm going out for a walk," or "The dinner reservations are for 7:00."
Sometimes we communicate to ask for help with tasks, such as, "I need to move the couch to clean under it and I can't lift it. Would you help me?"
Sometimes we communicate to learn something about the other person, such as "Please help me to understand why you are feeling upset with me. I care about you and I really want to understand."
- Sometimes we communicate to ask for help regarding ourselves, such as, "I'm feeling very anxious and I don't know why. Would you talk with me for a while? Maybe if I talk about it I will understand it."
For the most part, these forms of communication do not cause problems, unless there is an ulterior motive. An ulterior motive occurs when the intention of the communication is to have some control over the other person. When the intent of the above communications is to offer information, ask for help, or to learn, then there will likely not be problems. But these same communications can be spoken with the intent to control. The intent to control will be communicated through a harsh or judgmental tone of voice and through a hard, closed energy.
For example, "I'm going for a walk!" said with anger, has behind it an intent to control the other person through punishment. The real communication is "You have behaved in a way that is unacceptable to me so I am punishing you by withdrawing from you." "The dinner reservations are for 7:00," can be said in a tone that says, "...and you better be there."
Asking for help in moving the couch can be either a request or a demand, depending upon the intent. A request can be answered, "Sorry, I'm really busy right now. I will help you later," without repercussions. When the same thing is said as a demand, the other person is not allowed to say no without negative consequences.
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You can ask someone why he or she is upset with you from a true desire to learn, or from the intent to control. When your intent is to control, you will likely argue with whatever the person says, trying to talk him or her out of the upset.
When you are upset, you can ask for help because you really do want to learn and take responsibility for your feelings, or because you want the other person to fix you, to take care of you, to rescue you. People often want to communicate their feelings to get the other person to change, rather than to learn and take responsibility for their feelings.