“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t being said.” -Anonymous
The strength and endurance training in any and all relationships starts and ends with the capacity for communication. I have often called our communication skills the currency of a relationship, because it is literally the air that lives between people that makes their relationship vital or suffocating. It is perhaps the most complex set of skills that healthy relationships require because it is close to impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood. This is not only because our spoken words make up only a small fraction of the myriad ways we communicate. We also communicate through our tone of voice, facial expressions and body language.
The biggest complication is that we often communicate without fully understanding the needs, desires and judgments we are expressing.
It is no wonder that communication issues are frequently identified as the most challenging aspect of relating and the place where relationships falter. We stubbornly hang onto the belief that if we have expressed ourselves clearly, the communication is made. This belief overlooks the fact that other people can only hear you when they are moving towards you, which is usually not happening when they feel like they are being pursued by your words. The healing revelation in relationships occurs when we recognize that the most powerful experience in communicating happens through listening and not expression.
Learning to listen is not an easy skill to develop and is arguably in short supply in many relationships and even in life itself. To listen well we must begin by recognizing that the most important thing we give to someone we love is our full attention, free of judgment and expectation. We must be willing to open to the loving silence which real listening requires. Cultivating this internal quiet slows down the interaction so that you hear not just the words, but the meaning behind them. Communication transforms into connection when we listen not for what someone knows but for who they are.
This kind of communication is the moment our relationships create grace. It carries a truly magnetic current that pulls both people into full presence and allows both parties to unfold and know themselves and each other. Truth telling, even the most difficult truths are able to be expressed in the shelter of this being heard, which is so similar to being loved that most people can’t tell them apart.
The following story has many classic communication issues. Which can you identify? How do the communications get crossed between them? How do they misinterpret this miscommunication? Where is the breakthrough?
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Jenny didn’t hear her voice getting louder the way Mark did. He never raised his voice and went from annoyed to stony in a matter of minutes when Jenny’s requests got loud. She had grown up in a house where people yelled all the time. At good moments between them, they laughed at what a cruel trick their marriage was- they couldn’t have been any more different… But more often their arguments took more of their attention.