Open communication in relationships

One of the most important things in any kind of relationship – be it a romantic relationship, a good friendship or a parent-child relationship- is open communication.

The more we openly and honestly communicate our feelings, needs and wants, the better the other party can be aware of it and can react to it accordingly.

We often think it’s easier to keep things from each other, especially the unpleasant or uncomfortable things. Maybe because we fear negative reactions, or rejection or lack of understanding. We silently keep the things that bother us to ourselves and hope that they will perhaps change some day or sort themselves out some other way. And in the meantime often become frustrated, unhappy or angry while waiting.

Of course it is uncomfortable to address certain issues, especially if they involve our own insecurities or fears. When we talk about our emotions and feelings, we make ourselves vulnerable, or at least we believe that we do.

But no one can look inside of us, not even the most loving spouse, friend or parent, so unless we openly communicate what is going on in us we don’t give the other person the chance to change certain ways or things or help us in a productive way.

A good example for this is a wife who feels that her husband is not respecting the effort she puts into all the housework because after coming home from work and finishing dinner he just gets up without helping or saying a single word of praise or thankfulness.

She doesn’t address this openly but thinks that her husband should be aware of this himself. As a result she gets more and more frustrated by every day that goes on like this and gets angrier towards her husband who she believes is deliberately disrespecting her.

The husband on the other side mightn’t be aware of his wife’s feelings, as she never expressed anything negative towards him. He might feel that after a hard day’s work all he wants to do is to relax and not get into his wife’s way and that this is ok with everyone.

For him to change his behaviour or to be aware that he is actually hurting his wife’s feelings he will need to know how she feels in this situation. So unless they have an open talk about it one day, the issue will remain unresolved and lead to unresolved tension and frustration that might find its release in other, mostly unproductive ways.

Another example for this kind of miscommunication is a father who is very concerned about his teenage daughters well-being and because of his fear of anything happening to her, is very strict about the time she has to be home at or what she is allowed to do in her free time.

The daughter on the other hand may feel that her father doesn´t understand her or doesn’t have any appreciation for her needs, and might even feel unloved and hard done by.

Unless father and daughter have an open chat about this one day, the daughter will not come to understand that her father’s strictness originates from a feeling of love and worry towards her. But if they do, they both have the opportunity to understand each other’s point of view and feelings a bit better and might even be able work towards a compromise which allows the daughter more freedom while the father doesn’t need to feel as worried about her well-being.

Open communication requires a bit of courage. It requires talking about our feelings and many of us are not very good at it.

We either don’t know what to say or which words to find or we might fear that it will lead to a fight or unpleasant confrontation. And sometimes it actually will.

But a little storm is often exactly what is needed to sweep away all the swelling and underlying negative thoughts and feelings and makes way for a clearer view and better understanding.

It opens a window of opportunity, for ourselves to acknowledge our true feelings and concerns, and for the other person to be able to react to it in a more productive way.

So the next time you find yourself arguing with your partner, your friend or relative maybe you could try to step out of the situation for a moment and ask yourself if you actually clearly communicated what you are feeling, or wishing or wanting to the other person. Does your Partner really know that it bothers you that he or she is always 15 minutes late or do you just assume he or she should know by now because you get frustrated whenever it happens? Does your child really know that you love and care for him or her because you openly express it or do you just assume he or she will know because you are there for him or her 24h 7 days a week? Does your mother-in-law know that you love her but think that she is getting a bit too much involved in your life or do you think she might realise this herself someday because you don’t invite her to your house as often anymore?

Miscommunication is the most common cause for fights, arguments and negative emotions towards each other. But only if we address our feelings and state what we think and believe in a clear way, the other person has a chance of being truly understanding and supportive.

It might seem to some that by doing so we are “letting down our guard”, being “weak” or making ourselves vulnerable. But there is nothing negative about that. At least not from a psychological point of view. In the contrary, we have to let down our guard at times, it takes too much energy to always have our guards up. By doing so we might be successful at keeping people out, but sadly miss out on all the loving people we could let in.

We have to be “weak” at times to recover and refuel from all the times we need to be strong, or we end up emotionally exhausting ourselves or “burning out”. We have to be vulnerable at times to be able to receive loving and supportive help from others. And to realise ourselves where our boundaries lie and when we have reached them. A little openness goes a very long way….