“We have communication issues.” I hear this often from couples regarding intimacy issues. So why is it so hard for people who love each other to just talk? First, we have to address what is happening before looking at what is NOT happening.
What IS happening is a lack of resolution or closure on issues. What IS happening is not talking at all or arguing. These both result in avoidance of the real issue. If this is happening, then you are probably experiencing unspoken resentment, hurt feelings, lack of closure, neediness, anger, lack of trust, and most importantly, lack of closeness or intimacy.
Why is this happening? Because the level of disconnect, avoidance, and withdrawal feels normal and there doesn’t appear to be any other way to communicate. So the old patterns of behaving and thinking work their way into the relationship. The avoidance or pull away technique has been present for many years for each person. Not just in the relationship, but in each person’s inability to realize that the healthy tool needed for healthy conflict and resolution does not exist yet.
Avoidance and pulling away happens in both types of communications; arguing and NOT arguing. Either way the real issues aren’t getting addressed. Arguing too much and remaining in negativity is just as ineffective as not arguing. These communication styles are learned in childhood. That’s why it feels so normal. They become embedded due to early learning about conflict and how to have needs met. The young, childlike brain sees many things as a must have for survival. This is true for both concrete and abstract things, like approval or food. Both are important to a young person. When we grow up feeling so strongly, that we will not survive with or without x, y, and z, then we have a strong reaction or defense mechanism. This is what happens with couples. The strong reaction to discussing an issue effectively creates the opposite need. Either avoid it or fight about it.
How do we avoid? We avoid by becoming defensive, feeling overly protective, sensing shame, or guilt, or just don’t know how to listen. Shutting down can be a common experience for both people. Cutting-off from the experience only adds to the issue. But it does seem like the only option if you are feeling like your fight or flight mechanism is kicking into full gear!
Why do people avoid? Everyone is not the same and does not have the same history. But generally, there is some belief in place that says, Doing this makes me feel protected. “I will avoid by not talking or lie about it.” “I will push away and avoid by creating an argument. “I feel better and less stressed if I can yell about what I want or need.” “I will ignore the problem so I don’t get yelled at.” That’s the fight or flight part of the brain that looks out for your well being. But, it doesn’t work well all the time. So the perception does not match the reality.
Either way, not being able to talk about anything creates a lack of closeness and a lack of intimacy, which is harmful to relationships and perpetuates the negative cycle. Understanding what is happening is the key to knowing how to move forward. Conflicts can be seen as opportunities for growth and gain rather than something to avoid. You have the power to see your communication differently. Working on yourself and your perceptions will help you understand what you can change so you can make the choice about how and what you communicate. The gift is experiencing being understood, heard, and accepted with someone you care about, maybe for the first time in your life!