Category: Relationships

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.

Elaine Gibson: Learning from Family Systems Theory

How do you view your family of origin? Our family dynamics have a tremendous influence on how we feel about ourselves, show up in the world, and relate to others. When these dynamics are subconscious, we remain bound and encumbered by them. But when we bring them to the surface, we can engage our power to change and grow. 

In this thought-provoking podcast, Tami Simon speaks with marriage and family therapist Elaine Carney Gibson about her new book, Your Family Revealed: A Guide to Decoding the Patterns, Stories, and Belief Systems in Your Family. They discuss family systems that serve each individual, making sacrifices versus being sacrificial, the metaphor of the labyrinth, healing emotional wounds, what a healthy functioning hierarchy looks like, the advice “wear beige and be quiet,” setting and maintaining clear boundaries, using disagreements as a tool for growth and connection, the parentified child, the phenomenon of triangulation in relationships, intergenerational trauma, the future of family therapy, and more.

Liz Goldwyn: Sex, Health, and Consciousness

Our sexuality is an integral part of who we are, yet our understanding of sex has been warped by everything from age-old taboos and religious dogma to a popular culture that views sexuality as transactional. In this “edgier” episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Liz Goldwyn about her new book, Sex, Health, and Consciousness, and how we can each reclaim our birthright of pleasure and joy. 

Tune in as they discuss why it’s never too late to experience better sex and more pleasure; the metaphor of the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi; a much-needed new vision of sex ed; inquiring into your beliefs about sexuality; how your individual relationship to sexuality is as unique as your fingerprint; bringing discipline, mindfulness, and practice to your sex life; creating a safe and healthy ethos around sex; the concept of aftercare; how bondage can become a healing tool; using sex to fill a void in your life; developing porn literacy; Orgasm Breathing—and a guided practice of its first stage; harnessing our sexual energy; and how the integration of sex, health, and consciousness is critical at this time in our collective lives.

Stretch Your Heart and Say What You Mean

Join Sounds True’s Tami Simon in conversation with author and teacher Oren Jay Sofer, as he shares his innovative method for productive discourse and authentic connection. In “Stretch Your Heart and Say What You Mean,” Tami and Oren explore how contemplative practice is an essential ingredient for healthy conversations and relationships, and vice versa; three foundations for mindful communication; the practice of pausing a conversation; the art of the “do-over”; the power of intention in conversation; curiosity, humility, and kindness; how focusing on what matters transforms reactivity and allows us to speak our truth; the shift from projecting blame to identifying and expressing our needs; the heart of compassion and nonviolence—seeing one another in a deeper way; three layers of needs—physical, relational, and spiritual; freeing our hearts from animosity and hostility, and becoming a force for loving unification; and more.

Soft Power: Moving from You and Me to Us

In this podcast, Sounds True founder Tami Simon speaks with “the relationship turnaround guy” and bestselling author Terry Real about: the origins of his two-day relationship intervention; the groundbreaking—and rule-breaking—approach of Relational Life Therapy; dealing with shame and grandiosity, and the contempt underlying both; the skill of “joining through the truth”; what healthy self-esteem looks like; why “there’s nothing that harshness does that loving firmness doesn’t do better”; speaking to and from the mature, wise adult instead of the adaptive, wounded child; relational mindfulness; recognizing your tendency toward “fight, flight, freeze, or fix”; our toxic culture of individualism and the shift to “soft power”; why an invitation works a lot better than a complaint; the essential rhythm of relationships: harmony, rupture, and repair; honoring the ecological system of your relationship while having your individual needs met; and more.

A Love Letter to Friendships . . . And How to Break Up...

Erin Falconer is an author, digital entrepreneur, and the editor-in-chief and co-owner of PickTheBrain, one of the most trusted self-improvement communities online. She was named “one of the top digital entrepreneurs in Los Angeles” by Los Angeles Confidential and one of the “Top 10 Women Changing the Digital Landscape for Good” by Refinery29. She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and is the author of the books, How to Get Sh*t Done: Why Women Need to Stop Doing Everything So They Can Achieve Anything and, with Sounds True, How to Break Up with Your Friends: Finding Meaning, Connection, and Boundaries in Modern Friendships.

In this podcast, Sounds True’s founder, Tami Simon, speaks with Erin Falconer about the unique power of our personal friendships and how we can work to improve them—or let them go if necessary. Tami and Erin also discuss: opening to our inner guidance and the voice of truth within, why taking 100 percent responsibility for our lives leads to 100 percent freedom, taking an audit of your friendships—including what Erin calls “exposing the mediocrity,” self-knowledge and personal energy management, bringing clearer intentionality and deeper commitment to our friendships, difficult conversations and applying the concept of “rupture and repair” to relationships with friends, making amends in previous friendships, Erin’s “friendship questionnaire,” and much more.

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