Relationships and the communications breakdown / breakthrough

There is nothing better than being understood for who we really are!

When we feel understood our hearts open and we feel valued and loved. We can spend our whole lives looking for that special person who will 'get' us. Then, once we find ourselves in a relationship our hopes of being 'got' become very high. Initially we push this deep need aside and are happy to compromise, but eventually it bubbles to the surface. We want them to 'get' us without saying anything. Eventually our partners should know what we want, what we don't and how we feel. We have unwittingly set our partners up to fail. Being in a relationship can be a rewarding and enriching part of our human experience, but when things become difficult it can also leave us feeling alone and confused.

We don't learn how to be in a relationship. Similarly, no one is taught how to be a good parent. In both cases, the initial experience can be exciting yet scary and overwhelming.

Mirroring is a vital tool in child development. The child needs the care-giver to accurately reflect how they are feeling and if there is a mismatch, i.e. if the mother expresses anger when the child is sad, the child can experience internal confusion about their actual experience. This, of course, is a huge simplification of how mirroring works, but I use it to demonstrate how most of us have not been accurately mirrored as children - therefore we seek it in the outside world as adults and in particular within our love relationships. We may look for this in the form of validation, reassurance and approval. We can then become critical of our partners when our unspoken needs are not met. This does not mean we should now go and blame our parents. Most parents do the best they can, and no parent can ever get it totally right.

So what's the answer?

The challenge is to fully understand ourselves! In relationships it's about becoming conscious of our unmet needs and learning to express them authentically without alienating our partner. It's also about understanding the needs of our partner. As we may not feel understood we may also not understand them.

Often, though, in relationships there are two people with different needs both wanting to be accepted and understood whilst stuck in a cycle of frustration. It's here where communication breaks down and often we lose sight of the other person we chose to be with in the first place. We may also have lost sight of our own identity.

In firstly becoming aware of what is happening, and if we have a partner who is wiling face the difficulties too, we can create a space in which to re-build the communication channels.

One way of doing this is by sitting down with each other and allowing 5-10 minutes for one partner to voice his/her concerns. The other partner listens to each concern and repeats back what they have heard. The game doesn't move on until the listening partner has repeated accurately what has been said. Then swap round. No discussion. No debate. Just voicing, listening, repeating.

This is a technique often used in Imago therapy which offers an excellent approach to couples work. It may feel a bit formulaic and uncomfortable at first, but it's a great way to experience clarity and understanding.

In this way we learn to express ourselves beyond conflict and often understand our partners in new ways. We may hear things we didn't know, and this can sometimes be surprising. Often, working like this can enable breakthroughs in communication as we move towards openness and acceptance.

It's exciting to know that we can re-learn how to express our needs as well as understand what might be needed of us. We can do this from a place of love both for ourselves and for our partners.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, WC1A
Written by Neil Turner, MA, UKCP, MBACP | Psychotherapy | Adults and Couples
London, WC1A

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