What I Learned About Communication From a Cold Shower


The illusion that communication has taken place can lead to big trouble!

Back when Dale (the man who became my husband) and I were first spending nights together at my home, I gave him the guest bath to use. One morning, as we were getting up to prepare for our day, he asked, “Can we shower at the same time?” I said, “Sure!” and headed off to my shower, hopped in, got the temperature just right, and was ready for sexy, sudsy, morning delight. About the time I began to wonder where he was, my water went ice cold. I learned, up close and personal, just how effective a cold shower can be while he was happily showering in the guest bath with the warm water diverted from my shower.

What Dale meant was, “Can we run both showers at the same time?” What I heard was, “Can we shower together?” George Barnard Shaw sure got it right when he said, “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Dale and I had a good laugh about what happened but it gave me pause to wonder how many times were we under the illusion that communication had taken place when, in truth, it had not.

It happens in all relationships—you just flat out misunderstand the simplest of communications. And as if that weren’t enough of a problem, we all have filters through which we hear things. If Joe observes, “The rice is salty,” and Sally hears, “You’re a terrible cook,” she’s interpreting his statement-of-fact comment through her low self-esteem filter to hear criticism that’s not there. It’s this filtering that leads to unexpressed grudges and resentment as well as arguments that start something like this:

“You said (fill in the blank).”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I didn’t!”
“Well, in so many words you did!”

When you find yourself tweaked over something your sweetheart said, be absolutely certain—before you blow a gasket—that you’re not under the illusion that communication has taken place when it hasn’t. If you find yourself doing an in-so-many-words analysis of something your sweetheart says, there’s a darned good chance you’re misinterpreting through a distortion-causing filter. When, as a result of something your partner says, you feel angry or hurt, use those emotions as teaching moments, opportunities to discover filters that need to be tossed out. In the example given above, if Sally often hears criticism in what Joe says, it’s possible that he really is critical. It’s also very possible that Sally needs to work on her self-esteem so she can stop hearing nonexistent criticism.

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This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.