Thursday, March 12, 2009

Communication Patterns

We are in a new relationship. We feel passion and joy once again in our daily lives. All the difficulties from our last relationship fade as we enjoy our new found partner. Time seems to stand still as we enjoy life once again. We believe our problems are finally behind us. They were, after all, caused by our previous partner. Gradually we begin to feel discomfort. We notice small annoyances at first, then larger problems surface. We find that we are once again plagued by the same difficulties which we left behind in our last relationship. We are puzzled by this development. How it is possible that we have once again selected someone who exhibits behaviors so much like our last partner?

This scenario may seem quite familiar to many of us. We select the same partner again and again. The names may change, but the inner persona seems to be the same. We are confounded by this pattern. We want to make better choices, but seem to be attracted to the same basic qualities. How do we change? What can we do to alter our result?

We begin by looking at ourselves. We may be unhappy with the result we achieve in our selection, but our choice is being fueled us in some way we have not yet recognized. We investigate our earliest memories to detect how we learned to communicate with others. We recall whether we learned to adapt when difficulties arose... whether we were taught to respect others when differences of opinion emerged.

We learn how to relate to partners when we are small. We watch our caretakers interact with one another. We observe as they disagree, discuss, compromise and resolve their issues. We are very young and unable to assess whether their communication style is healthy. We merely adopt their pattern.

What happens when we come from a family where we don't see disagreement, discussion, compromise and resolution? We may not learn the skills necessary for cultivating healthy relationships. When we come from a dysfunctional family of origin, it is likely that we will continue those dysfunctional patterns when we initiate relationships. We may have had no other example to follow. We may believe that our family of origin was healthy, and that the communication styles expressed are common and acceptable.

Many relationships suffer because partners have learned opposing communication styles from their family of origin. One partner may be a communicator, wanting to talk through issues and discuss solutions. The other may be a non-communicator who is uncomfortable discussing problems and wants to minimize difficult conversation. This partnership may suffer from internal stresses as the two individuals struggle to meet their own needs.

Learning the tool of dialogue may help both parties to meet each others needs. The communicator may be constrained from verbalizing immediately, giving the non-communicator time to process their feelings and position surrounding the issue. The non-communicator may also be obliged to agree to discussion once they have processed their feelings and clarified their position.

In dialogue, the partners listen to one another attentively, each having an opportunity to express themselves in their entirety and then receive feedback. Although dialogue may feel awkward initially, over time this tool can overcome significant communication differences and pave the way for a healthier relationship. As we feel heard we are more able to be present when listening to our partner. This validation allows increased self esteem. As our self esteem rises our ability to effectively communicate increases as well. We use our tools, practice self care and give ourselves the gift of increased communication skills and healthier relationships.

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