Breakdowns in Communication
I’ve run into some situations in recent months where upsets have occurred, or important events have not occurred, as a result of crossed wires.
I will start first with the upsets. In the first set, in the certain cases while dating, I thought I had been very clear about where I was in terms of ‘getting serious’ and thought that we had a fairly straight forward and clear agreement about how things would be between us (“getting serious” has been something I’ve gradually become more open to over time since my break up, to the point where I feel ready to embrace a relationship again, when the right person comes along. This was not the case at the time of these events however). As things turned out in these cases, this feeling of clarity was not mutual, they had another picture in their mind, so that we later had to have some difficult conversations about unfulfilled expectations and hurt feelings. Both of these situations ended well thankfully. This was due in large part I feel to the fact that I was committed to straighten out any misunderstandings and make it clear that I cared about them, their feelings and making sure they felt heard and comfortable with how things were, and to plan with them how things would continue from there. One of these breakdowns in fact lead to the formation of a very close and cherished friendship, however, all the same, I was left wondering if I should somehow have been more clear about the “go with the flow” intentions I had at the time, and if so, what should I have done differently?
The second set of mishaps occurred again on separate occasions, this time with a couple friends of mine, let’s call them Adam and Eve. Their cases were not connected, but much the same upset occured both times. Essentially, I was worried about them, and didn’t tell them so directly, either with an idea of sparing them discomfort in mind, or simply because I wasn’t yet sure what to do with my troubled thoughts about them. In those situations, instead of going straight to Adam, or straight to Eve I ended up talking to mutual friend(s) about my worries first. This was a mistake, and when Adam or Eve respectively found out I’d done that, they felt hurt, gossiped about and betrayed. Again, in both cases, some clear communication and listening on both sides did manage to help diffuse the antagonism. Since then however, I do tend to wonder if the whole debacle might have been avoided had I done some things differently. Should I have just kept my mouth shut? Should keeping quiet become my new policy with concerns about others? And if I do take on that policy, what if my doing so would result in something bad happening to a friend because I didn’t speak up. This whole type of circumstance felt for a while like a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation.
Giving these issues some thought, some non-specific and confidential conversation, and some time to ruminate, I believe I have come to a simple way forward to prevent both of these kinds of breakdowns, yet one which I quite easily overlooked before. I believe that if I want to avoid this kind of situation from arising again, I need to simply be much more direct. By this, I don’t mean that I need to be rude or brutal with my delivery of communication (although of course there are times when a blunt delivery can be necessary), but rather that I need to far more often say what is going on for me, what I’m feeling, and what’s been on my mind. I suppose an eloquent way to put that would be; saying what I mean, and meaning what I say.
You may perhaps be thinking that this sounds like no challenge at all, it should be easy to put into practice right? While I wouldn’t disagree with you in principle, I do believe there’s a reason why people don’t more often express themselves this openly. It takes a certain amount of vulnerability to say exactly what is going on for oneself without holding anything back, especially on a sensitive topic which might not at first be well received. For a fictional example, imagine you had a friend who you thought might have a drinking problem, but who gets very touchy or withdrawn when the subject of alcoholism gets brought up. For me at least, and I believe for fair number of you reading, this would be a real challenge to talk about. On one hand, you know that you addressing this issue may very well cause a big, confrontational upset, something which I for one am always much more comfortable avoiding. On the other hand however, if you keep your concerns to yourself for the sake of that comfort and not causing an upset, how can you later justify that to yourself if the person ends up going down a slippery, self destructive slope which might have been avoided with a few well spoken words. Of course, you would not be responsible for their mistakes, as I’ve said before, I don’t you can never truly be responsible for anyone else than yourself (and your own children, when they’re small). What I’m saying is rather that you may be able to make a difference to someone else with your words, and it is up to you to decide if and how you are going to use them.
Where I am left with all of this is that I must be more conscious and present with how I communicate on important and sensitive subjects such as those mentioned. Everything in a relationship between people is created in language at the end of the day, and choosing what to say, not to say, and how/when to say it is of the utmost importance. I do not expect that this awareness will result in me never creating any more upsets, because the odds are that this would be a completely unrealistic expectation. Instead, I have come to realise that breakdowns in communication are not a bad thing, simply another part of relationship to be explored, and sometimes one which can even lead to new discoveries, conversations, or possibilities opening up. I have a lot still to learn about communication and relationships, a process of which will likely never be over, as I tend to think nowadays that you can only stop learning when you are introspectively, or literally, dead. What I do know thanks to these events however, is that I can afford to more liberally explore direct, no nonsense communication of my thoughts, feelings and experiences with those close to me. I will endeavour never to do so in a self-centred or demanding way, but rather in a manner which allows for openness, vulnerability and sharing to be present; for them to respond to what I have said and know that they will be heard. If I need more time to think about things, or really feel I have to talk to someone about my thoughts beforehand, I can choose to do so to someone not connected to that person, in a way which keeps them fully anonymous if that feels more appropriate to the situation. Beyond this however, I should no longer like to hold myself back for fear of what ‘might’ happen, because that really gets no one anywhere. Rather than beat around the bush or attempt to hint at how I feel about someone, I can just tell them straight up: “Hey I think you’re really wonderful, and I’d love to spend more time with you in this or that capacity”. Rather than hold back my thoughts about how someone is doing or going to others about it before they themselves, I can say: “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve done this thing, or been this way lately, and I’m a bit worried about you, can we talk about it?”. This mode of communication involves less pretence, less worry and less second guessing. In short, I feel this is a much more authentic form of expression, one far more in line with my commitment, with being loving, caring and open and being the person I want to be in the world.
Till next time my heavenly heartthrobs!
Amor and More,