Do you really know whether your partner understands what you are saying?

    —
April 3, 2023

Human communication, even on a good day, is really terrible. It really is. We misunderstand each other much of the time.

Do you really know whether your partner understands what you are saying? Does your partner get the nuances or understand the purpose of the words you are using? Do you think they know exactly how you feel about your words or the meaning of the words? When you’re listening to someone, do you think you really understand them? Do you understand their mind? Their context? More often than not, you are approximating each other. You’re getting close.

Most of our communication is implicit, nonverbal. Our verbal communication, which we all love and adore and depend on, is really the culprit. It gets us into a lot of trouble.

When you were dating, I’m sure you were much more careful about the words you used. How careful are you now? Many couples grow sloppy with each other in terms of their verbal communication. They take shortcuts because they think they know each other.

You’re probably taking a lot of shortcuts, assuming your partner understands the meaning of your words, and you’re getting into trouble. Do you even have each other’s attention when you are communicating? Many times, you don’t. You both are busy, you are moving, and your lives are only getting busier. And then you find yourselves saying, as many couples do, “Oh, it’s my partner’s problem. They’re not listening.” Right?

When it comes to communication, you both must take responsibility for making sure that your speech is clear and understood by the other person. As you will read in this section, just because you say something, doesn’t mean your partner is translating it as you intend.

Here’s an example:

Partner A: I want more intimacy in our relationship.

Partner B: I want that, too!

The problem here is that to Partner A intimacy means “more sex.” Partner B, on the other hand, thinks that agreeing to intimacy will mean more interpersonal talk. What is more is that sex actually means “only intercourse,” and interpersonal talk specifically means “more questions about how I’m doing.” That is how we talk to each other—as if the other person knows exactly what we mean. Much of the time, we don’t even know exactly what we mean.

Remember the good old days (of course you don’t) when speech was simpler? We would just say, “Duck!” or “Eat!” or “Sleep!” or “Run!” or “Lion!” Fast forward to today’s linguistic complexities and consider for a moment all the nuances in our talk, all the lingo, all the changing meanings for regular words. Take the word sick, for example. Today it could mean physically ill, mentally ill, disgusting, or amazing. And the language couples use with each other can seem even more confusing. “I want to know you deeply” could mean many different things. “I want you to show me your soul” could make a person’s head spin. “I want you to say what you really feel” can, for some, seem like a trick or an insurmountable task. We use a great many words and phrases that mean a great many things, none of which partners clarify with each other. This is a terrific error.

The human brain is always trying to conserve energy; it does as little as possible until it must. Most people, particularly partners, will treat clarification as unnecessary and, in fact, frustrating. “You should know what I mean,” a partner might say. “My meaning is obvious.” Or, “Everyone knows what that means.” Both speaker and listener feel persecuted by the chasm between meaning and understanding. Minds misattune, which leads to heightened arousal (faster heartbeat, higher blood pressure), which leads to threat perception, which leads to fight, flight, or freeze.

Rinse and repeat.

Check and Recheck
This common and frankly annoying error is easily avoidable by returning to the formality likely present at the beginning of the relationship. Check in with simple, nonthreatening questions or requests:

  • “Are you saying . . . ?”
  • “I want your eyes because this is important . . .”
  • “Let me make sure I understand . . .”
  • “Say back what you heard . . .”
  • “Let me repeat that.”
  • “What do you think I meant by . . . ?”
  • “We may not be talking about the same thing. Are you saying . . . ?”

Checking and rechecking is vital to daily governance and the proper running of a two-person system. If you were two astronauts communicating out in space while tethered to the mothership, would you be incredibly careful with your communication? You bet you would. Your lives would be at stake. If you were two generals deciding a war plan, would you talk in shorthand or assume you were on the same page? If you did, people would die. You are no different. If you and your partner continue to use shoddy communication to share information, your relationship will suffer badly.

These errors, if repeated again and again, go right into your respective personal narratives about what’s wrong with the other partner and why you’re unhappy. Remember, our personal narratives form to protect our interests only and are almost always based on faulty data—like errors in communication!

Be orderly. Be precise. Be responsible. Be a two-person system.

This excerpt is adapted from In Each Other’s Care: A Guide to the Most Common Relationship Conflicts and How to Work Through Them by Stan Taktin, PsyD, MFT.

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, is a clinician, researcher, teacher, and developer of A Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy® (PACT). He has a clinical practice in Calabasas, California, and with his wife, Dr. Tracey Tatkin, cofounded the PACT Institute for the purpose of training other psychotherapists to use this method in their clinical practices. For more information, visit thepactinstitute.com.

Stan Tatkin

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, is a clinician, teacher, and author who integrates neuroscience, attachment theory, and current therapies. He is the developer of A Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy® (PACT), and he and his wife, Tracey Boldemann-Tatkin, created the PACT Institute to train other psychotherapists in this methodology. Dr. Tatkin teaches and supervises family medicine residents at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, CA, is assistant clinical professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and directs training programs throughout North America and globally. He is the author of Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner's Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship, and Your Brain on Love: The Neurobiology of Healthy Relationships.

Author photo © Cathy Cooley

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Stan Tatkin: In Each Other’s Care

Dr. Stan Tatkin is uniquely talented at helping couples shift from being in each other’s faces to being in each other’s care. In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks to the innovative therapist and author about his new book, In Each Other’s Care: A Guide to the Most Common Relationship Conflicts and How to Work Through Them, discussing some of the research-based, practical strategies he has developed in his celebrated PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy) model.

Give a listen to this gritty, honest, informative, and empowering conversation exploring: cultivating secure functioning relationships; why couples must create their own culture of shared power, respect, and collaboration; finding the balance between independence and interdependence; the one-directional nature of codependency; becoming your partner’s whisperer; why “earned love” is what endures; the fantasy of the same page; attachment versus love; mutual purpose and care as ingredients for an awesome relationship; the physical toll of an insecure functioning relationship; the Sherlocking technique; the power of eye contact; practicing quick repair; touch: an unequivocal signal of friendliness; the basic need in relationship: you and I are OK; the Big Five: sex, money, kids, time, and mess; jealousy and envy; longevity and happiness through co-creating the architecture of your relationship and understanding how you interact under stress; and more.

Note: This episode originally aired on Sounds True One, where these special episodes of Insights at the Edge are available to watch live on video and with exclusive access to Q&As with our guests. Learn more at join.soundstrue.com.

Do you really know whether your partner understands wh...

Human communication, even on a good day, is really terrible. It really is. We misunderstand each other much of the time.

Do you really know whether your partner understands what you are saying? Does your partner get the nuances or understand the purpose of the words you are using? Do you think they know exactly how you feel about your words or the meaning of the words? When you’re listening to someone, do you think you really understand them? Do you understand their mind? Their context? More often than not, you are approximating each other. You’re getting close.

Most of our communication is implicit, nonverbal. Our verbal communication, which we all love and adore and depend on, is really the culprit. It gets us into a lot of trouble.

When you were dating, I’m sure you were much more careful about the words you used. How careful are you now? Many couples grow sloppy with each other in terms of their verbal communication. They take shortcuts because they think they know each other.

You’re probably taking a lot of shortcuts, assuming your partner understands the meaning of your words, and you’re getting into trouble. Do you even have each other’s attention when you are communicating? Many times, you don’t. You both are busy, you are moving, and your lives are only getting busier. And then you find yourselves saying, as many couples do, “Oh, it’s my partner’s problem. They’re not listening.” Right?

When it comes to communication, you both must take responsibility for making sure that your speech is clear and understood by the other person. As you will read in this section, just because you say something, doesn’t mean your partner is translating it as you intend.

Here’s an example:

Partner A: I want more intimacy in our relationship.

Partner B: I want that, too!

The problem here is that to Partner A intimacy means “more sex.” Partner B, on the other hand, thinks that agreeing to intimacy will mean more interpersonal talk. What is more is that sex actually means “only intercourse,” and interpersonal talk specifically means “more questions about how I’m doing.” That is how we talk to each other—as if the other person knows exactly what we mean. Much of the time, we don’t even know exactly what we mean.

Remember the good old days (of course you don’t) when speech was simpler? We would just say, “Duck!” or “Eat!” or “Sleep!” or “Run!” or “Lion!” Fast forward to today’s linguistic complexities and consider for a moment all the nuances in our talk, all the lingo, all the changing meanings for regular words. Take the word sick, for example. Today it could mean physically ill, mentally ill, disgusting, or amazing. And the language couples use with each other can seem even more confusing. “I want to know you deeply” could mean many different things. “I want you to show me your soul” could make a person’s head spin. “I want you to say what you really feel” can, for some, seem like a trick or an insurmountable task. We use a great many words and phrases that mean a great many things, none of which partners clarify with each other. This is a terrific error.

The human brain is always trying to conserve energy; it does as little as possible until it must. Most people, particularly partners, will treat clarification as unnecessary and, in fact, frustrating. “You should know what I mean,” a partner might say. “My meaning is obvious.” Or, “Everyone knows what that means.” Both speaker and listener feel persecuted by the chasm between meaning and understanding. Minds misattune, which leads to heightened arousal (faster heartbeat, higher blood pressure), which leads to threat perception, which leads to fight, flight, or freeze.

Rinse and repeat.

Check and Recheck
This common and frankly annoying error is easily avoidable by returning to the formality likely present at the beginning of the relationship. Check in with simple, nonthreatening questions or requests:

  • “Are you saying . . . ?”
  • “I want your eyes because this is important . . .”
  • “Let me make sure I understand . . .”
  • “Say back what you heard . . .”
  • “Let me repeat that.”
  • “What do you think I meant by . . . ?”
  • “We may not be talking about the same thing. Are you saying . . . ?”

Checking and rechecking is vital to daily governance and the proper running of a two-person system. If you were two astronauts communicating out in space while tethered to the mothership, would you be incredibly careful with your communication? You bet you would. Your lives would be at stake. If you were two generals deciding a war plan, would you talk in shorthand or assume you were on the same page? If you did, people would die. You are no different. If you and your partner continue to use shoddy communication to share information, your relationship will suffer badly.

These errors, if repeated again and again, go right into your respective personal narratives about what’s wrong with the other partner and why you’re unhappy. Remember, our personal narratives form to protect our interests only and are almost always based on faulty data—like errors in communication!

Be orderly. Be precise. Be responsible. Be a two-person system.

This excerpt is adapted from In Each Other’s Care: A Guide to the Most Common Relationship Conflicts and How to Work Through Them by Stan Taktin, PsyD, MFT.

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, is a clinician, researcher, teacher, and developer of A Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy® (PACT). He has a clinical practice in Calabasas, California, and with his wife, Dr. Tracey Tatkin, cofounded the PACT Institute for the purpose of training other psychotherapists to use this method in their clinical practices. For more information, visit thepactinstitute.com.

Learn More
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3 Ways to Deepen Gratitude This Holiday Season

It is true that misery cannot simultaneously exist alongside gratitude and that, despite ourselves, we are constantly being given more than we give. To prove that point, try this simple, elegant practice and see for yourself. Please note: If you resist doing this exercise, consider that you are doing so because you, like most human beings, prefer to believe that you give more than you receive. If you find you’re wrong, what will happen to your resentment or other feelings of disappointment?

Naikan Inventory List

Take a few full size notebook paper and draw three columns. At the top of column #1, write “What he/she/they gave to me.” At the top of column #2, write “What I gave to him/her/them.” At the top of column #3, write “The trouble I caused him/her/them. Exhaust each column with your list of SPECIFIC items before moving onto the next. The timeline to consider is the last 3 months. The use of “always” or “usually” should be avoided. Be precise.

Write three letters of gratitude

You should have enough evidence to write three separate letters of appreciation to your partner. Be sure to make each different, using alternate words expressing thanks to your partner. You can give your partner this letter (or card), or you can simply keep it to yourself. Your choice. The exercise was for you anyway.

Write three letters of apology

You should have enough evidence from your list to apologize for putting your partner out. Make each letter unique by saying “I’m sorry” in different ways. Again, you can give this to your partner or simply keep it private. Either way, the exercise does its magic. If you were honest and thorough, you might have noticed that column #2 was shorter than columns 1 & 3. We are selfish creatures; always aware of what we’re not getting and how our partners cause us grief.

I hope this exercise has helped deepen your gratitude during this holiday season!

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, is a clinician and author who integrates neuroscience, attachment theory, and current therapies. He directs training programs throughout North America and globally. He is the author of We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring LoveWired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship. 

The community here at Sounds True wishes you a lovely holiday season! We are happy to collaborate with some of our Sounds True authors to offer you wisdom and practices as we move into this time together; please enjoy this blog series for your holiday season. 

To help encourage you and your loved ones to explore new possibilities this holiday season, we’re offering 40% off nearly all of our programs, books, and courses sitewide. May you find the wisdom to light your way. 

EXPLORE NOW

 

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