Good communication is one very important aspect of building a stronger and healthier relationship with your significant other, family, friends, and your support system. Unfortunately, many people never learned healthy ways of communicating with others, which has a negative impact on all areas of their lives. In our counseling work with individuals, couples, and families, we frequently hear the following 10 misconceptions about communication:
Myth #1: “If my partner really loved me and cared about me, he/she would instinctively know how I feel, and what I want and need to be happy in our relationship”
Reality: This is called the "mind-reading myth" - expecting your partner to know instinctively what you want and need without having to say anything, then feeling resentful, discouraged, frustrated, and unfulfilled when your needs aren’t met. In reality, people must specifically communicate their wants, needs, and expectations to others in order to potentially get those needs met, including communicating how they feel about issues that arise in the relationship. If this is something you have never done, it can be quite scary and awkward, and it takes a lot of practice. The rewards, however, can open up a whole new avenue of intimacy in the relationship, deepening the connection between two people. It is much more satisfying than sitting around and hoping that someone will eventually realize what you need, what is important to you, and how you feel!
Myth #2: “People who really love each other should automatically communicate well"
Reality: People don’t generally learn at a young age how to communicate effectively with others in ways that deepen and strengthen relationships. Good communication does not come naturally for most people. In fact, many of us learned very unhealthy ways of communication from various role models in our lives, and continue to communicate in unhealthy ways because it is all we know. Healthy communication takes great understanding and insight into your own issues, knowing your background and history, how you are the way you are, including your ‘hot spots’ as well as your ‘blind spots’. Learning how to communicate in an open and healthy way is one essential component to the growth of a relationship, and takes dedication and work to change.
Myth #3: “If my partner and I can just make more time to talk about our problems, it will solve all of our relationship issues”
Reality: There are several reasons why this statement isn’t true. First of all, though increasing communication in a relationship is imperative, it isn’t the only thing that is needed in order to improve the relationship. More of unhealthy communication only makes matters worse. If each individual isn’t aware of the unhealthy ways they are communicating with each other, it can become a circular pattern of never-ending conflict and pain. Secondly, how we communicate is more significant than how much- the amount of time spent talking isn’t nearly as important to the relationship as the quality of how people communicate. We call this the “process”—or how the communication feels. Does it feel disconnected? Blaming? Focused on surface things? Are you both interrupting each other? Are the words saying “yes”, but all other non-verbal cues are saying “no”? Are both individuals sharing equally, or is one person talking, and the other person is silent? Is one person becoming defensive and reactive, or making excuses? Does one person share how they are feeling, then the other person retreats and distances? Are both people screaming at the top of their lungs and neither person is hearing the other? These are common patterns of dysfunctional communication that we frequently work on with clients in therapy sessions. Most often, the manner in which people communicate is much more important than the content and quantity.
Myth #4: “Couples with healthy communication rarely fight”
Reality: Couples with healthy communication fight, but they fight fair! They are interested in the other person’s point of view, they genuinely want to know how the other person is feeling (even if it’s not what they want to hear), and they understand that healthy conflict is a crucial part of gaining deeper intimacy in the relationship.
Myth #5: “People with good communication skills are able to settle arguments where they can agree with each other”
Reality: Because people with healthy communication also have a good understanding of what they need, and how they feel, they are able to work with each other to arrive at a place of compromise—even if that means they ‘agree to disagree’. Healthy relationships mean working towards a place where each person feels like the situation is win/win, which sometimes means that they don’t agree, but each person feels that they are respected for their own point of view.
Myth #6: “Our problems are so serious, we just can’t communicate with each other” Reality: Everyone can communicate in a healthy way if they make the choice to do so. As stated in Myth #2, healthy and effective communication doesn’t come naturally. It takes hard work, insight to your own personality, history, and issues, as well as commitment to work on changing towards a more positive direction. As we will discuss in Myth #7, you can not, not communicate!
Myth #7: “The most important aspect of the communication in our relationship is our verbal language”
Reality: Much of our most important communication occurs in non-verbal languages, including gestures, tone, facial expressions, conceptions and rules of time and space (e.g. “waiting for the doctor”, “the look of contempt”), etc. . More often than not, the most significant communication "rules" are unspoken. That may explain why we feel so betrayed when those rules are "broken." Remember how you felt the last time someone cut in front of you in a line? The unspoken part of our language is equally as important as the spoken, and can communicate a lot! Studies from communication and anthropology show that when people from different cultures make each other uncomfortable, it is not the language barrier which is the problem, but rather the "languages" of time, space, order, and other non-verbal communication messages. How aware are you of the unspoken, non-verbal communication in your relationships?
Myth #8: “For healthy communication in a relationship, both people should be open and willing to communicate about their issues immediately, whenever the need arises” Reality: While it might seem ideal for our relationships to be able to drop everything and immediately discuss our issues in order to get them resolved quickly and effectively, that isn’t always realistic. Though it is important to discuss issues that arise, and to ensure that the relationship problems aren’t ‘swept under the rug’, it is equally as important for both people to be respectful of the others need for time and space before jumping right into dialogue of thoughts, feelings, and needs. Any time you are in a relationship, certain differences are bound to exist (e.g., one person is a night owl, the other an early bird; one person is the pursuer and hates having unresolved conflict, the other is the distancer and needs frequent breaks when conflict gets heated, etc.). This is natural, healthy, and unavoidable. Through therapy, couples can learn to appreciate their differences, understand each other’s needs, and learn to negotiate when is the best time to communicate effectively in the relationship’s best interests.
Myth #9: “If I communicate my needs to my partner, he/she should respect and love me enough to be able to meet that need”
Reality: Each person in the relationship has personal limitations and differing needs. Just because your partner isn’t able to meet every physical or emotional need you present, doesn’t mean that is an indication of their love and respect for the other person. Couples with healthy communication are able to recognize and respect one another’s limitations, to clearly ask for what they need, and to balance getting their needs met in a healthy way, both within and outside of the relationship.
Myth #10: “Healthy communication in my relationship shouldn’t be painful”
Reality: Too often, our way of thinking is that the less painful, the better our relationships. This myth can destroy relationships! Healthy couples don’t avoid the painful feelings, they embrace them and see them as an opportunity to learn, grow, and become closer in their relationship. Of course, they don’t willingly inflict emotional pain upon each other, but they are willing to communicate about the issues in their relationship or their history that are causing them sadness, anger, fear, etc. Sometimes healthy communication means hurt feelings, which is inevitable. It can, however, deepen the trust and commitment to the relationship, and promote intimacy and lasting connections, if done in a healthy way.
Do you recognize the many myths you have held about healthy communication in your relationships? Imagine Hope Counseling Group can help you learn better communication skills with those you love-- Individual, relationship, and/or group therapy is an extremely effective way to help you gain better insight into what issues are currently keeping you from being healthier in your communication. Call us today at (317)569-0046!