Communication and Individuality in a Relationship
In last week’s blog post we discussed the importance of truly recognizing that in any relationship, there is a person other than one’s self present:
“We feel that to truly develop a successful intimate relationship, you have to acknowledge and accept someone as uniquely different from you…”
“This involves an understanding that this person has just as rich a life: has dreams, has worries, has a bad knee and has run out of coffee and needs to pee. We know all these things about other people in the abstract, but that’s like looking at a magazine without reading the words. To have a relationship with another person is to accept them as they are.”
This recognition is a critical factor to the success of any relationship. It is important not only to come to terms with it, but also to embrace it and in fact, learn to celebrate it. Why? Because it will always be the case. Each of us is unique and separate, no matter how much we agree on things. The more you try to make your partner into yourself, the unhappier both of you will be.
A relationship with a strong union that supports two strong and separate individuals is the result of this understanding. This kind of relationship must be built on honesty and respect.
For both of us, there have been a few topics that are such an integral part of our relationship that it has taken us a while to realize these are not things everyone experiences or practices, and that we should write about them. One such topic was respect, and another is regular contact and communication.
When the relationship is filled with honoring and accepting each other, a special kind of trust and security is present. For this to exist, each partner must be willing to share their thoughts and feelings. It is important to stay in regular contact and for that contact to be intimate and totally open.
When partners know their partner’s thoughts and feelings, they don’t have to make them up from their fears or insecurities. In our experiences with couples, we have found over and over that when this regular contact does not occur, the couple slowly becomes estranged, and the projections and misinterpretations that occur just deepen the rift that grows between them.
A deep relationship is both a shared union & one in which both partners have a rich individual life Click To TweetHere is a wonderful example of how easy it is to misinterpret what your partner is thinking and feeling:
Let’s say a guy named Roger is attracted to a woman named Elaine. He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time. A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves. They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else. And then, one evening when they’re driving home, a thought occurs to Elaine, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: “Do you realize that, as of tonight, we’ve been seeing each other for exactly six months?”
And then there is silence in the car. To Elaine, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself: Geez, I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he’s been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I’m trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn’t want, or isn’t sure of.
And Roger is thinking: Gosh. Six months.
And Elaine is thinking: But, hey, I’m not so sure I want this kind of relationship, either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I’d have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily toward … I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?
And Roger is thinking: … so that means it was… let’s see…. February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer’s, which means … lemme check the odometer .. Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.
And Elaine is thinking: He’s upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I’m reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship, more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed – even before I sensed it – that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that’s it. That’s why he’s so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He’s afraid of being rejected.
And Roger is thinking: And I’m gonna have them look at the transmission again. I don’t care what those morons say, it’s still not shifting right. And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this time. It’s 87 degrees out, and this thing is shifting like a darn garbage truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves $600.
And Elaine is thinking: He’s angry. And I don’t blame him. I’d be angry, too. I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I can’t help the way I feel. I’m just not sure.
And Roger is thinking: They’ll probably say it’s only a 90-day warranty. That’s exactly what they’re gonna say, the bastards.
And Elaine is thinking: Maybe I’m just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I’m sitting right next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person I truly do care about, a person who seems to truly care about me. A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, schoolgirl romantic fantasy.
And Roger is thinking: Warranty? They want a warranty? I’ll give them a darn warranty. I’ll take their warranty and stick it right up their ….
“Roger,” Elaine says aloud.
“What?” says Roger, startled. “Please don’t torture yourself like this,” she says, her eyes beginning to brim with tears. “Maybe I should never have … Oh my, I feel so …” (She breaks down, sobbing.)
“What?” says Roger.
“I’m such a fool,” Elaine sobs. “I mean, I know there’s no knight. I really know that. It’s silly. There’s no knight, and there’s no horse.”
“There’s no horse?” says Roger.
“You think I’m a fool, don’t you?” Elaine says.
“No!” says Roger, glad to finally know the correct answer.
“It’s just that … It’s that I … I need some time,” Elaine says.
(There is a 15-second pause while Roger, thinking as fast as he can, tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one that he thinks might work.)
“Yes,” he says.
(Elaine, deeply moved, touches his hand.)
“Oh, Roger, do you really feel that way?” she says.
“What way?” says Roger.
“That way about time,” says Elaine.
“Oh,” says Roger. “Yes.”
(Elaine turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if it involves a horse. At last she speaks.)
“Thank you, Roger,” she says.
“Thank you,” says Roger.
Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Roger gets back to his place, he opens a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes deeply involved in a rerun of a tennis match between two Czechoslovakians he never heard of. A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it’s better if he doesn’t think about it.
The next day Elaine will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail, they will analyze everything she said and everything he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression, and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification. They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored with it, either.
Meanwhile, Roger, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual friend of his and Elaine’s, will pause just before serving, frown, and say: “Norm, did Elaine ever own a horse?”
Although that originated as an internet joke, it is a great example of how a lack of communication creates a disconnection between two people, and if not fixed, may grow and grow until the relationship unravels.
A deep relationship is both a shared union, an ecstasy of connection, and one in which both partners also have a rich individual life. The key is to find a balance between the time of sharing in union and the activities you both do as two distinctly different people. When you practice this balance, you will be rewarded by a relationship full of peace.
Both of these poles require communication, which offers the knowing that creates intimacy and the reassurance that separation is not rejection. When you stay in regular communication with each other you will not have to project what is happening with your partner, you will know.