Monday, October 10, 2005

More on Relationships…

While I’m certainly no relationship expert, I do have plenty of experience with good, and bad, relationships. I think that most folks, by the time they reach this stage in life, unless they’ve been locked in a room the entire time, have had plenty as well.

Why is it that a relationship can be so difficult to maintain, feel so fragile one day, and rocks steady another?

I think it boils down to communication.

I’m talking here, primarily, about personal relationships, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives, but I think the concept applies to any relationship, business or personal.

Communication; it’s the foundation, and the core, of the relationship. Without very good communication skills, in both partners, in my experience, the relationship is in for a rocky ride.

I see it in business relationships all the time. A client makes a request, the consulting company carries out what it thinks the request was, sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re not. Often the relationship is ended over this type of miscommunication. Who was at fault? Is it the client for not being clear enough? The consultant for not making sure they fully understood the request?

Obviously, both companies ‘wanted’ the same, or at least a similar, outcome. The client wanted what they’d requested, the consultant wanted to deliver exactly that, and get paid. Neither side got what they wanted; from that point on things begin to disintegrate.

They crumble in business relationships because of a loss of faith, the same is true in our personal lives. The two companies above will part ways, and they’ll both claim the other ‘cost them money’, but, in reality what they’re saying is that they no longer have faith that they can maintain a profitable relationship with the other.

I believe our personal relationships work in much the same way. Both parties have essentially complimentary intentions, but often, it’s an inability to clearly communicate what those are that leaves us feeling hurt, or misled, like the companies in the my example. The difference is, it's not 'money' but something far more important, self esteem. Bad communications, missed cues, can combine to hurt one person's feelings, and then self esteem is challenged.

Once that happens, it puts a ‘chink’ in our relationship armor, a ding, a surface imperfection. Each time it happens, we add another ‘ding’, once it’s gone on long enough, our relationship begins to resemble a car that’s been driven hard, and not cared for very well. It’s dull, faded, dinged up and in general a lot the worse for the wear.

So what is communication within a relationship? It’s made up of many things; one of the most important is listening.

It’s at least as important to listen, as it is to talk, when communicating with your partner. You need to listen carefully to what they’re saying, not only their words, but their body language and facial expressions. Listen, and try not to be preparing questions for anything you don’t understand completely (and you don’t understand anything, completely, trust me). You can ask for more information when they’ve finished, spend your time listening, not thinking.

Men and women, well we think, hear and interpret things quite differently. Men, we’re much more literal. If we say we want to go to the parts/hardware store for a can of paint, that’s why we’re going to the parts store. If we say that we see “another way” to approach a situation, that’s what we mean.

A woman, in my limited experience, is likely to interpret those statements differently from the intent. The parts/hardware store statement, for my wife, is heard something like “There might be a new part, or tool I don’t have, so I’m going to the store to get this can of paint, and check on new stuff”.

The I see a “different way” statement, could easily be interpreted as me trying to say whatever way she’s handling a problem now, is somehow wrong, and she should change to ‘my way’.

In the first case… well, if I’m being completely honest, she’d be right, at least some of the time. But the majority of the time, I’m on a mission, at least when I set out. I might see, or the parts guy might tell me of, something new that could make the project I’m working on better, or allow me to complete it quicker, but my intent was to get a specific item and return.

In the second case, she’d almost never be right. If I thought she was handling something in a certain manner and that the way she was doing it was somehow preventing her from reaching her goals, I’d tell her exactly that. I would not try to work up some vague way of getting her to figure it out from things I’d said.

If we reverse this scenario, for just a minute, you might see the reverse is also true. It’s unlikely she’d tell me, directly, that she thought I was ‘screwing up’. Instead, she’d discuss it with me, finding ways to cause me to think about my actions, and my results, until I saw it for myself.

You see, our approaches are different. She’s concerned about my ‘feelings’, and wants to be sure whatever she says doesn’t ‘sting’. Our ‘manly’ approach is to just state the facts, and expect they’ll be taken as facts, not as personal attacks.

I mean, after all, it was just the facts.

The real problem here is that we (men and women) approach our conversations, within our relationships, as though we were dealing with a member of our own sex, or ourselves, rather than with a member of the opposite sex, or our partner.

Men and women, see, interpret and feel things entirely differently (well for the most part, there are exceptions, but I’m generalizing here).

So, even more so than with your friends, associates, business clients and partners, you and your partner need to listen carefully to one another. Take the time to ask questions, to determine if what you heard, was what you thought you heard… especially if you thought you heard a ‘dig’… after all this person did choose you to spend their time/life with… would they really have said, what you thought they said, if you were their top choice?? Probably not if it was something you ‘heard’ negatively…

Asking these questions is not easy. Often we’re afraid we’ll hear an answer we do not want to hear… I’m here to tell you... you NEED to hear the answer… regardless. If your worst fears come true, and they meant what you thought you heard… you need to know that… and find out why they’re saying that.

On the other hand, it’s quite possible, when you ask you’ll hear something to allow you to put away those fears, and realize the person you’re with loves you, and would never, intentionally say anything to hurt your feelings.

Start now, today. Work on your communication skills, and especially communicating with your partner. Do it now, before you let a lack of effort ‘beat up’ your relationship. You’ll be glad you did!!


Ilene said...

Listen with your heart - isn't that what it is all about - and speak from the heart. It just makes the words softer doesn't it. I probably missed that today when I had a blow-up with my ex. What was he really saying - did I really listen with my heart or did I just hear his words (which weren't very nice) with my ears and respond accordingly. Interesting stuff, Bill.

jenbeauty said...

I like your analogies Bill. I have taken several dings in the last few months. Communication is difficult when it is one sided and you are talking plainly to your partner, expressing your hurt.

I will continue to try hard because that is who I am. I hate to fail. Your advice is good and concrete.

Firehawk said...


Several years ago, I heard a person talking about the mental processes between women and men as "circles and lines". Men tend to be linear and driven to find out how to "fix" things, while women tend to want to discuss things and think about them before judging whether or not they need fixing.

As you say, that's an oversimplification, and people don't fit into that mold completlely. Men have the ability to think in a non-linear fashion, and women are certainly capable of the same goal-directed behavior as men.

It's just like saying, "Women navigate by landmarks, and men know their North and South." Well, maybe that's true most of the time, but for me, I tend to remember routes by landmarks and lefts and rights. If I go inside a building, I completly lose track of compass points. I'm not a "getting lost" sort of person. I can find my way, but I just don't do it like men are "supposed to".

I think that there's an element of social modeling here, too. Your early training and the way your encouraged to be has a big effect on what ends up happening as an adult. It propagates across the society as these social norms become institutional.

Relationships can usually remain viable when there's communication. Even when the relationship ends, I think that there will be less negative feelings when it's clear and understood why the arrangement no longer works.

The real trouble comes when the "wheels of confusion" start to roll, and no one really knows where the other person's at.

An interesting post, Bill. Keep at it.

Bill said...

Ilene - Your heart, ears.. whatever works. It's not easy to listen to unkind words, but it's what's behind them that's the real story. I suspect you already knew that, or he wouldn't be your 'ex'.

Jen - Expressing yourself, when you're hurt, is one of the most difficult things to do. It's hard to say 'out loud' and it's tough for the other person to listen objectively... Props to you for hanging in there and working at it!

Firehawk - Obviously you're right, generalities rarely apply equally to everyone.

I'm a 'mix' myself, and have the same problem inside of a building, I can't even point in the general direction of the front door in most cases. I can get back out though, the same way I came in.

Things also get further complicated when only one person is really trying to communicate. All to often one, or the other, plays things too 'close' never really saying what's on their mind.

I think this leads to the wheels coming off... or the "wheels of confusion" as you put it!

THanks to you all for letting me know what you're thinking!!

Chloe said...

Well said, Bill. And there's a lot to be said for three magic words: I was wrong. I'm not advocating saying it just to end a disagreement, but if in fact you are mistaken, there's no shame in admitting it. Hell, I'm wrong all the time, but I always walk away learning something new.

Jaxx said...

Very interesting post Bill. Of course a lot of what you say people already know, we just need to be reminded once in a while. I know I do. I was raised to be direct, by a VERY linear thinker. I recognized that in myself a long time ago, but still have a tendency to lay out the facts logically, with little understanding of how what I said could be interpreted in any other way. I do try, but thanks for the reminder.

No_Newz said...

That Dr. Phil dude has nothing on you. Great advice, only one question Bill, how do I get the old man to read this with no nekkid boobies anywhere on this blog? ;)
Lois Lane

Jay said...

Wow, relationship advice. You are very brave for attempting to crack that nut.

Bill said...

Chloe - "I was wrong".. very powerful stuff there, especially when used as you indicated. The only thing I know for sure, is that I don't know everything!

Jaxx - That's exactly my problem too... Just lay out the facts (as I see them)... what I've found however is that those facts are often interpreted by others in ways I never anticipated. So... like you, I try... and I'll continue to try.

Lois - You could tell him I have a secret nekkid (that's naked, with intent, for those of you who didn't know) boobies link buried here somewhere... and then tell him I must have removed it!! :)

Jay - I don't know about brave... it was just something that was on my mind... and, well, that's usually the root of any of my posts!

Thanks again y'all, for stopping by, and taking the time to let me know what you are thinking!!

Karyn Lyndon said...

I enjoyed your post, Bill. Communication is also tough with all the distractions around us. That's why sometimes I find it's easier to communicate with my husband on the phone. Talking across the table at a restaurant can work too. Everyone's forced to be civilized and sit there.

Bill said...

Karyn - Thanks! I prefer going out to dinner ot discuss important 'stuff' for exactly the same reason!! No phone, TV, people at the front door etc... just the two of us figuring out what ever it is we need to figure out!!

Admittedly, it's more 'me' than Maryan... I can get easily distracted... and once that happens my communication skills fall off pretty quickly!

Oh... article #3 made the cut for Christmas.. and they've asked me to broaden my scope and think about a wider variety of subjects!!