By Judy Vidakovich
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
Complexity with interpersonal relationships is as old as creation. Just look at stories in Genesis. Adam blamed Eve. Cain’s jealousy of Abel led to murder. Abram deceived Pharaoh, giving his wife to him. Sarah manipulated Abraham. Rebekah deceived Isaac. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright. Laban tricked Jacob into marrying both his daughters. Rachel and Leah competed. Jacob plays favorites. Joseph is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Joseph forgives.
These ancient stories have universal relationship dynamics that involve miscommunications and unhealthy communications. Millennia have passed, but communication between families members and friends often results in conflict, even when it is unintended. One common communication problems in relationships can be traced back to something being assumed or unsaid. Even when something goes unsaid, it can still be a major factor in a conversation, leaving at least one person at a disadvantage. In addition to the George Bernard Shaw quote above, remember our colloquial phrase of what happens when you assume.
Although miscommunication is an ancient practice, the 21st century has added more possibilities due to texting, email and social media. (Old-fashioned letter writing could be added here, too.) When we cannot hear a person’s voice or see body language, it is very difficult to accurately interpret words on the page or screen, even when both parties have the best of intentions.
When I meet with couples preparing for marriage, I often use my own communication foibles with my husband as examples of how we all have pitfalls in communicating. I want them to know miscommunications are normal, and I want them to discover ways to communicate that work for them. When John and I were preparing for our own marriage (a second marriage for both of us) we read books on interpersonal relationships and discussed them. We worked at discovering the best way to communicate with each other.
No matter what kind of relationship, a good tip for improving your communication skills, is to use miscommunications or conflict as a learning opportunity. Talk about where things broke down in the communication process. Ask the other person, “Is there a different way I could have said that?” or “How could we have handled this differently?” These kinds of discussion can serve to greatly improve your relationship. Listen to the feedback, and make a point to use do it differently next time. Remember not to let this discussion become a rehashing of the argument; that’s not productive.
Bottom line--remember to apologize and to forgive. Those who never apologize and never forgive are slowing and deliberately damaging their relationships.