Perfect Communication Makes Perfect Love
Everyone agrees communication is essential to a healthy relationship. And that’s certainly true, but it is a very special type of communication that makes for a fantastic love. When you really think about it, we’re always communicating, so it’s not so much about just communication, but how you communicate.
An excellent example is what Drs. John and Julie Gottman call The Four Horsemen: Criticism, contempt, disrespect, and stonewalling. These are certainly communication techniques, but in this case they’re unhealthy and best avoided, as they communicate to a partner that we don’t care and that we are not present.
So you can see that it’s not lack of communication that can undermine a relationship. Everything we do communicates, be it love or fear, interest or disinterest, respect or disrespect. Learning to communicate only love, interest, and respect takes a special awareness.
So how can we develop those particular communication skills?
In my work with the Gottmans, I’ve learned that tuning into your own body is a great way to start learning about how you communicate. Most of the time when we communicate, we’re charging toward a resolution, we think that getting to the point is the most important thing and this is where most arguments go wrong.
Aristotle himself pointed out that the happy life is one in which the means is also an end to itself. I interpret this to mean we should make the present as important as the future, and as a result, you will have a happy life.
This becomes a key point in arguments, because so often we miss out on the “present” of the discussion, the whole point really, because we’re just trying to get to the solution without accepting or listening to what the other party is trying to say. This not only leads to an inadequate resolution, but usually means the argument will come up again and again, because nothing has really been resolved.
In couples coaching I hear again and again that couples argue about something that they thought was taken care of in a previous argument. Perpetual, recurring problems are very common for many couples, and I know that the solution has less to do with solving the issue than with learning a new way to discuss it. The three steps are to truly communicate the issue, listen to what the other person has to say about it, and then finally, and least importantly, resolve the issue.
Often, and unfortunately, couples typically want to get straight to the solution. Sadly, and not to show gender bias, this is especially true of men, who tend to be more results-oriented. Focusing on the resolution is like ruining a vacation by driving as fast as you can to the destination and not stopping anywhere along the way.
So how do you resolve problems, especially those that may have been hanging around for years, or even decades?
The simple answer is this: Learn to sit in the fire. Accept that you will have to face some discomfort along the way. You will have to feel your way through the problem.
When you talk (or argue) with your partner, it’s easy to focus on the destination and not the journey. The answer is in the means, not in the end. How we come to solve our disagreements and issues, come to a point of understanding, and ultimately how we come together is the journey of love. Seeing that happen is a truly beautiful thing.
In Dr. David Schnarch’s book Intimacy and Desire, he refers to the process of merging: the process of fully allowing yourself to be seen by your partner. Merging is opening yourself up, becoming so open-hearted and transparent that your partner can fully see you. An open heart is a truly beautiful thing, but for some reason (typically as a form of protection) as a human species we learn to shelter ourselves. We may present as open, but we’re ready to close in an instant. To be open, particularly to live open, requires a lot of conscious attention, awareness, and specific intention.
One of the steps toward merging is forgetting about the destination and appreciating the journey. That happens when we see that the means (listening and communicating) is more important than the ends (resolving the argument).
An excellent way to learn to tune into the present is by becoming more aware of your body. During arguments this is especially helpful, though often difficult to remember to do. A great part of the richness of life is feeling, and that means experiencing each and every emotion, not just the ones you like. Listening to your emotions can become a sacred practice, tuning into your body and your feelings, every sensation gives us a clue as to what is true and real, and it will also let you know what your body is communicating, whether you intend to or not.
When you tune into your bodily sensations, you can easily become lost in the experience. If you allow that to happen, what could be an argument with your partner can turn away from who is right into finding new ways to share and expose yourselves to each other. It can be beautiful and freeing to be transparent.
I first learned about being transparent through the book Conscious Loving by Gary Hendricks, Ph.D and Kathlyn Hendricks (click here for a recording of my interview with Gary). In this book, the authors suggest that by tuning into bodily sensations and sharing that awareness, we can open ourselves to telling the actual, unarguable truth. By communicating our awareness of our bodily sensations (I feel like this right now…), we take the focus off blame and turn the focus into an opportunity to share, open up, and begin merging.
I once heard the teacher Nirmala say, “Love is space.” When we learn to tune into our body, then voice our experience, we give space, we give love, and we open our hearts. Thus, we can merge with our partner.
If you would like to learn how to tune into your body here is one very powerful way:
Some time today, take a moment to stop what you’re doing. Close your eyes, and put your attention into your body. Consciously try to feel what your body is doing. Focus anywhere there is sensation. If you’re sitting, maybe you feel your glutes against the seat. Put your attention there. Then let that attention expand to your legs and your toes, your chest, your arms, and your fingers. Feel each breath. Feel the brush of the air as it moves against your skin. Feel the different textures of your clothes against your body.
As you practice feeling consciously, know that you are practicing a deep level of honesty, integrity, and even love with yourself. One form of love is attention, and by attending to the present of your experience, you are showing yourself love.
As you continue to experience and feel consciously, work to be in tune with your body. Feel as much as possible all at once. Feel the pressure of your feet against the floor at the same time as you feel the air entering your lungs through your mouth and nose. Learn to feel the different sensations as one complete conscious experience.
If this is too much at first, bring your attention to a single place, and then expand one sensation at a time to let yourself absorb into the experience of being you in the immediate present.
Give it a try, and then look for my upcoming Body Conscious Awareness Meditation exercise to help you further the practice of loving yourself through personal attention. For now, try this simple technique and see how often you can be present to yourself through the day.
If you are interested in other ways of tuning into your body, here are some other techniques I have found helpful in aiding the process: Tai Chi, Yoga, nature walks, The Release Technique, meditation, and even just walking barefoot on grass.