We often hear that communication is “the key” to a successful relationship. And we communicate with one another all the time, whether it’s a Facebook poke, a text message, a hug or a screaming match. However, it is evident that not all modes of communication were created equal. We alter our communication styles (consciously or unconsciously) depending on the level of intimacy we wish to have with others. When I refer to intimacy, I mean with friends, family members and romantic partners, anyone with whom we have a relationship.
When asked how we are doing, we either choose to mask our true emotions with a smile and reply with the courteous “Fine”, or we chose to divulge our fears, our excitement, and our burdens. Rarely do we share personal information with people whom we have yet to develop trust (unless we trust that we will never see them again —see “Taxicab Confessions”). This, of course, is a conscious decision, for self-preservation. It protects us from exposing our vulnerabilities and risking emotional pain.
But we all want that close intimate relationship, whether it’s to have a BFF or to fall completely in-sync with a soulmate. Are there things that you are doing that are putting you in the “acquaintance” category. Or is the other person “just not that into you” and you are missing all of the signs?
The purpose of this list is to increase awareness of your communication choices. It is certainly not all-encompassing and focuses mainly on the verbal communication. It can help you assess, or gain further insight into your relationships, starting with the least intimate style of communication, to what I believe is the most intimate communication style.
10. Talking At:
When I imagine someone talking “at” another person, I envision the a-hole boss just rattling off numbers and statistics about your productivity during an annual evaluation, not really having a care in the world about your input. You know that you’re talking “at” someone when their eyes glaze over, and you are so focused on delivering your message, that you don’t even realize that the person has canceled their subscription. There is a lack of active listening. You are on stage, but the house is empty.
Outside of the routine and conversations about major news events, sharing a funny email, most of the communication is via text message. Maybe there is a holiday phone call a few times a year: for Mother’s or Father’s Day or even a birthday. There may even be “check in” calls talking about work, family, and overall wellbeing. Ultimately, it is enough to call this relationship a friendship, however, communication is more out of obligation or formalities. Perhaps time will change this since all relationships must start somewhere, but if it a has been like this for years, likely it is how it will remain.
8. “Yes, and” instead of “yes, but”:
Whenever you add “but” to a sentence, you negate everything that was said before it. ie: “I know that you feel angry, but I think you’re unreasonable.” What that sentence boils down to is that “I think you’re being unreasonable,” and it is all that person will hear. When you change your style of communication to “yes, and” you are validating what the other person is feeling, while also expressing your own thoughts and emotions. What makes relationships work is the ability to accept and embrace our differences. Two different emotions are very capable of coexisting. When we accept that, we become better at listening and understanding others without invalidating how we feel.
7. (Potentially Embarrassing) Honesty
When I see a person who is too drunk to walk, or who has spinach in her teeth or is missing a button on her blouse, exposing her bra, my first question is “Where are her friends?” I believe that when you are invested in a friendship/relationship, you are also invested in their betterment. “Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are.” And it’s not all about the spinach… It’s having the difficult conversations about your friend being rude/abrasive, or being ignorant, or whatever negative behavior.
6. Explaining because I want to vs. because I have to
Has anybody ever told you “I don’t have to explain myself to you”? Translation: “You don’t deserve my time and patience.” When you explain yourself, especially when you don’t have to, it shows that you feel that the other person deserves a deeper understanding of your thoughts and behaviors. Taking the time to sit, and explain something that may make perfect sense to you to a person you care about shows a deep level of commitment and intimacy. And as you explain, you explain patiently and thoroughly, again and again, if necessary… until the person gets it.
I realized that I was in an intimate relationship when an apology was no longer attached to pride. It was no longer a matter of proving that I was right, or “winning,” because what was more important was rectifying my wrong. It was about the person who I loved no longer hurting because of what I had done. Sometimes you apologize just because it’s what your friend needs to hear. It is an act of selflessness. When a friend does not apologize when it’s the most needed, this shows that you are not as close as you may think.
When you’re invested, and you care, you challenge the person to do better, to be better. They, in turn, challenge you. For me, a friend/family member’s accomplishment feels just as good as an accomplishment of my own. There is a strong feeling of pride when a person close to me is successful, and to enable that success, we must challenge them to be their best. It’s being able to have a conversation about how “you can do better.” This is not us imposing our own goals on our loved ones, but providing the support and motivation for them to achieve their greatest dreams.
3. Being Uncomfortable
I tell my clients in therapy that sometimes discomfort is a sign of growth, breaking out of that comfort zone. Historically, I found my comfort in avoiding and shutting down. When I found myself forcing myself to speak up when I wanted to shut down the most, I knew that my commitment to my relationship superseded my stubbornness and my preference for comfort. Of course, this takes time. Working towards true intimacy takes patience and self-sacrifice. It’s also scary as hell. Make sure that you are working towards the same goal.
2. Fighting the Necessary Battles
I don’t like tension. I don’t like fighting. Despite the fact that history has taught me that avoiding only postpones instead of resolved, it is my first instinct. I have learned to embrace conflict. No, I don’t purposely start or enjoy arguments. But over the years, I’ve learned that arguments can lead to enlightenment, growth, and understanding. When the tension rises and emotions are raw, it is often something of great importance that is being discussed. It is when we are vulnerable, without the filter that we sometimes shine the light on things that may have never been previously expressed. When you chose not to fight, you’ve decided that the energy, the emotion, the discomfort is not worth it.
Please Note: The key to growth through conflict requires respect and listening. Arguments become ineffective when it becomes about putting the other person down just to get a point across.
1. Be an Empath:
Have you ever felt a person’s emotions before they have even verbalized anything? Sometimes you can hear it in the tone of their voice, or even a text message. This is usually a person who you spend a lot of time with, a person who you know almost as well as you know yourself. When something is wrong, you know. When they are holding something back, you know. They cannot lie to you, and you cannot lie to them. There is a connection between you two that cannot be broken. To me, this is the ultimate level of intimacy. Sometimes all you need to do is feel that emotion with them. It doesn’t always require advice or fixing. Sometimes just sitting with that person is all that is needed.