Communicating with Your Partner
by Nestor Presas, LMFT-S
How can my partner and I better communicate? I feel like I tell her/him everything, but it is like pulling teeth to get her/him to talk to me.
Your partner does not communicate? It is impossible not to communicate. Perhaps your partner does not talk as much as you like, or when you only convey to one another the minutia of life. If there is no deep, life-defining, bonding conversation, that partner is “telling” you something. Maybe they are saying, “I don’t expect you to understand me,” or maybe “I don’t trust you enough to show you vulnerability,” or even “our problems are so severe, maybe it is better to avoid you, and try to solve them on my own.”
Do you remember when you first started dating? Communication was fluid, it was easy to talk for hours and compare notes about your experiences. Do you remember talking freely, getting your soul naked without fear of misunderstanding, negative judgement, or rejection? You two accomplished that by focusing on the other. You wanted to learn everything about that person, and you appreciated their openness and trust. What happened?
The more we invest in a relationship, the more we fear losing it. This fear often drives us to be willful, rather than willing; controlling rather than appreciative. This fear also drives us at times to hide ourselves from our loved one. Perfect love drives out fear. Control and withdrawal are dangerous fantasies. No one can own a person and be loved by it. Domination engenders rebellion. True power is the life force of individuation, our aspiration to become our true and best self.
The Elements of Equality
Attention: Both partners are emotionally attuned to and supportive of each other. They listen to each other. And, both feel invested in the relationship, responsible for attending to and maintaining the relationship itself.
Influence: Partners are responsive to each other’s needs and each other’s bids for attention, conversation, and connection. Each has the ability to engage and emotionally affect the other.
Accommodation: Although life may present short periods when one partner’s needs take precedence, it occurs by mutual agreement; over the long haul, both partners influence the relationship and make decisions jointly.
Respect: Each partner has positive regard for the humanity of the other and sees the other as admirable, worthy of kindness in a considerate and collaborative relationship.
Selfhood: Each partner retains a viable self, capable of functioning without the relationship if necessary, able to be his or her own person with inviolable boundaries that reflect core values.
Status: Both partners enjoy the same freedom to directly define and assert what is important and to put forth the agenda of the relationship. Both feel entitled to have and express their needs and goals and bring their full self into the relationship.
Vulnerability: Each partner is willing to admit weakness, uncertainty, and mistakes.
Fairness: In perception—determined by flexibility and responsiveness—and behavior, both partners feel that chores and responsibilities are divided in ways that support individual and collective well-being.
Repair: Conflicts may occur, and negativity may escalate quickly, but partners make deliberate efforts to de-escalate such discussions and calm each other down by taking time-outs and apologizing for harshness. They follow up by replacing defensiveness with listening to the other’s position.
Well-being: Both partners foster the well-being of the other physically, emotionally, and financially.