why don’t people communicate?

I’m struggling with my partner, he doesn’t communicate. I tell him I need to understand what is going on for him but he doesn’t seem to be able to get it out and across to me.  I don’t know if I am not listening or he is not trying.

In my experience this is one of two things.

1. Finding the words is hard.
Most people don’t have the following phrase:

I want to tell you something but I don’t know how to explain, can you give me some time to put it into words?

Even if most people could say that on the tip of their tongue, they would then have to think of words. And that’s hard.  A good communicator will be willing to help the other person find the words to map out what’s going on internally

2. Safety to say what you want to say.

Safety includes not expecting to be judged for what you say, and not expecting consequences for what you say.

Consequences can include

  • People feeling emotions (like sad, angry) about what you say.
  • People punishing you for what you said.
    • by judging you
    • by reacting physically
    • by reacting at all negatively (sometimes positive reaction is also a punishment)
    • by reacting in a way to manipulate you
  • People being unpredictable in behaviour (this requires the skill of predicting what people will do as well as people who act predictably.
  • receiving legal or financial attack based on what you say.  (or expecting this)
  • metaphysical/spiritual threat (God will judge what you say, or what you were thinking)

How to fix this?

  1. make safe the space for communication.  Make sure it’s private.  Build up trust (read: repeatedly be reliable in your ability to not judge them and not cause consequences for what they say.  This may take practice, this may take baby steps.)
  2. help them with the words.  Some people need help with words.  They need the guidance to find the feeling they are having.  They need some helpful questions to explore specificity of what’s going on.  Remember to be careful, without safety this is uncomfortable territory.

Also no one owes you anything.  You can ask for someone to help you to reach an understanding but they are allowed to say no.

Message sending should be easy.  But sometimes it’s more complicate than we realise.

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