My wife (Kathy) and I have been married 30 years. We are both college-educated and fairly good communicators. Most people understand us when we talk or write.
But sometimes we have a hard time communicating with each other. It is not that we don’t try, or that one of us doesn’t want to understand. But occasionally (I think it is only occasionally), one of us just doesn’t “get” what the other person is saying. I will admit that the person in our relationship that doesn’t “get it” most often is usually me.
She is trying to communicate something and I’m listening. I’m nodding like I understand. I feedback to her what she just said. And I may get the words right, but it is clear to her (sometimes, also to me) that I am not really understanding what she is trying to say. Even now, I think of conversations where I am nodding, “Yea, yea”, and then all-of-a-sudden I get ‘fogged’. “Whoa, wait a minute. You lost me there. I got point A, and point B, but then I’m not sure where you went from there.” And she tries again, with different words, but I find myself wincing and squinting, shaking my head side-to-side and just generally being confused.
Recently, we had this experience again. She was sharing about some challenges in our relationship, and I’m listening. But I am not getting it. And she is getting frustrated with herself that she can’t communicate her thoughts, feelings and experiences in a way that I understand what she is trying to say.
Ok, so I am a psychologist. And I am supposed to be this expert in human interactions — relationships, communication, feelings, and all that. This isn’t supposed to happen to me or in my marriage. (Wrong.)
So we agreed to try an experiment — some creative problem-solving, if you will. Since we have had this experience at least a few times, and seem to get stuck at the same place, we agreed we need to try something different. We are going to try to communicate these thoughts & feelings differently.
Here’s some things we are going to try (or, at least, consider as options):
Write it down. Sometimes people are better able to communicate more clearly when they write down their thoughts. This allows them to review what they have written and see if it really expresses what they are trying to say. It also slows down the interaction so the receiver doesn’t respond right away and you get into a quick interchange, which can lead to heightened emotions or getting off track.
Draw a picture. Drawing a picture of how you are feeling now, and possibly a picture of how you would like things to be may “break through” and help the person see the situation differently. It can be an actual drawing of the situation, or a “feeling picture” that represents what you are experiencing inside.
Use a word picture. Use some daily life situation that can serve as an example of what you are thinking. “It’s like cooking. You have the ingredients. You put them together, but not in the right order. And so the cake doesn’t turn out right.”
The best kinds of word pictures are those using examples and experiences most familiar to the recipient of the message. If you are trying to get your husband to understand something, use objects and processes that are part of his life — sports, fishing, planning a project at work, food, mechanics, computers — whatever it is.
Find some media (song, book poem, video clip) that says or shows what you are trying to communicate. This could be tough, but there are media examples out there that communicate our internal experience better than what we can say ourselves. It could be a song (Carole King’s “You’re So Vain” comes to mind!), or a passage from a book (keep it short), a poem (don’t get too metaphorical), or a clip from a movie (this could be good if the guy doesn’t infer too much from the rest of the movie).
You may have other suggestions. I’m open to ideas. We will see how it goes (I’ll let you know if we have a major breakthrough).
I think the encouraging part is — we keep trying. We know each other is trying. We aren’t giving up (yet) on trying to communicate. Maybe it’s me as an individual person. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy. Maybe it’s just tough for men and women to fully understand each other. Maybe it is something else. We haven’t figured it out yet. I will let you know if / when we do.