Breakdowns in Communication

You would think that with all of the immediate means of communication today, we would be communicating better than ever before. But it doesn't seem to be the case. Sometimes communication is better when we can slow it down so we have the time to reflect on what we want to communicate, why we want to communicate, and do so in a manner that allows the other person to take their time in the communication and thoughtfully respond. A communication breakdown is when the two parties have different pictures of the situation. Many things can block our understanding such as: failing to listen; reacting out of your personal history rather than the current situation; expectations; or using ineffective means of communication such as text messages.

Rebecca's relationship with her new boyfriend was going very well. They had good chemistry, they enjoyed a lot of the same activities, and they enjoyed each other's friends. They had been dating for several months when their first communication breakdown occurred. Sam, her boyfriend, left Rebecca's house on Sunday evening to give Rebecca time to get ready for work the next day. She had grocery shopping to do, laundry, and other loose ends to tie up before she hit the ground running on Monday morning. She was sad to see him leave but she had a lot to accomplish and set about doing her chores. Several hours in, she began to miss Sam and sent him a sweet text about how much she enjoyed her time with him and how she missed him already. He responded in a loving manner and let her know he was having a beer with his friend Alan at the pub.

Rebecca was crushed. Here she was working hard and missing him and he was out drinking the night away without a care in the world. She imagined there were other single women at the bar just waiting to seduce a guy like him. She expressed her disappointment and insecurity in a text. Sam was unsure of how to respond. He tried to text her a reassuring message but her response was even more accusatory and hurt. From Rebecca's point of view, his slow response time confirmed her greatest fears, he was cheating on her. An hour later after he said goodbye to his mate, Sam gave Rebecca a call to straighten out the misunderstanding. He was surprised to hear her tone of anger and hurt. He tried to explain but every attempt seemed to make the situation even worse. He said goodbye and felt the weight of the completely messed up communication. He wasn't sure how he got himself into such a mess and he didn't know how to get out of it. Rebecca felt the same way.

Ever since Sam started dating Rebecca, he put most of his friends on ice. Some of his friends were giving him a hard time and rightfully so. "Just because you have a girlfriend shouldn't mean you have to give up all your friends" they argued. Since Rebecca was busy, this seemed like the perfect time to catch up. All he was doing was having a beer and catching up with a good friend.

Rebecca had prior experience in the bar scene and knew how the combination of alcohol and poor judgement often went hand in hand. It's not that she didn't trust Sam, she didn't trust the bar scene. This was not her first relationship in which a man cheated. She knew the signs. It always started with going to bars and meeting new people.

Between the text messages and the curt, angry phone call, they both felt they were right and the other person was wrong. Would their relationship survive the conflict?

If this sounds familiar you have had a communication breakdown. What went wrong? Let's take a look step by step and see how this could have played out differently had they chose to communicate in a slower, more deliberate manner.

Rebecca communicated her feelings of love and longing in a text. It was a short, loving message that came with an unrecognized expectation. Rebecca was missing Sam and she wanted to hear that he was experiencing the same longing as her at the exact same time.

When she discovered he was not missing her but enjoying the company of his friend, she felt hurt by what seemed like a one sided relationship. But let's suppose that same exact message was communicated by email. She would have not expected an immediate response. When Sam did read his emails, maybe later that evening or the next day, he would not have been in the middle of a social interaction. His response would probably be more thoughtful and focused on Rebecca and his loving feelings towards her. There would not be the immediate gratification of getting the same loving feeling back, however, there would not be the risk of communication breakdown.

Rebecca obviously had some insecurities stemming from her past, (don't we all!!). The immediacy of texting is ripe for overreacting and reading into situations. Had she gotten the whole story in a conversation about catching up with his friend Alan, Rebecca would be much less likely to have this upsetting reaction. The story would have been about Alan and she would be less likely to imagine situations from her pasts. Had these insecurities come up in a face to face conversation, Sam could have taken the time to understand why she was upset and Rebecca could have revealed her dating history and how it contributed to her insecurities.

When Rebecca told Sam of her experience with careless men, he understood why she was hurt and why she reacted so negatively. Sam told Rebecca that he had only met Alan at the bar because

Alan was bar tending that night. Sam could met his friend anywhere and had no problem staying away from bars. He never really liked it that much anyway. He had only gone that evening because of the convenience of the situation. With this new information, he decided to avoid the bar scene because he didn't want to make Rebecca feel uncomfortable. Rebecca found his decision refreshing and it made her feel more secure in the relationship and trusting of Sam in general.

But was there more? Did Rebecca trust him? What if he didn't go to bars but met his friends other places? Would she be jealous of the fact he was with other people without her? Would she be threatened by any woman he encountered? Would she want him to be less outgoing and be more of a homebody like she was? These are the issues that needed to be delved into if they didn't want to have this same fight again and again.

Rebecca had a choice and so did Sam. Were they going to be their authentic self? Could they be honest with themselves about what they really wanted for themselves and for their partnership.

Rebecca was attracted to Sam because he was so funny. He had a lot of friends and enjoyed meeting new people. She was very attracted to his interesting approach to life and people. Although she found his extroversion attractive, it always scared her a little. She felt threatened by his friendships sometimes wondering if she would be interesting enough. She felt safe when they were together, but when he was doing his own thing, she had doubts.

At this juncture, Rebecca has a choice. She could be honest about her insecurities or she could hide them. She could act like it was okay when it clearly was not okay. She could try to manipulate the situation to get Sam to stay with her. Or she could tell him the truth about how she felt insecure. She could acknowledge that she loves his outgoing spirit and at the same admit to her fear of being abandoned. Each choice has it's consequence. She could deny her own feeling and find herself eating uncontrollably. She could feel stressed trying to control Sam. Or she could make herself vulnerable and risk being hurt.

Now Sam is at a juncture where he has a choice to make. He could try to explain to Rebecca how she is being unreasonable and why she should allow him to do what he wants, basically running over her feelings and getting what he wants. Or he could allow her to curtail his socializing, resenting her just enough to be below the surface of awareness, causing him to slowly gain weight as he now needs that extra beer to take the edge off. Or he could be with Rebecca as she expresses her fears and insecurities. He could listen to understand her feelings without trying to change or deny them. He could reassure her by telling her how much she meant to him. As he allowed her to express her emotions without trying to fix them, he would feel closer and more intimate with her.

So as you consider the conflict you are having in your relationship and how to clear up your miscommunication, the most important aspect of resolving the conflict is being honest with yourself and asking your partner to be honest with themselves. Honesty is not an impulsive reaction. Honesty takes time. It requires the discipline of self reflective skills, awareness of your emotions, and the vulnerability to speak your truth. It also requires a means of communication that allows your message to be heard and thoughtfully responded too. STOP TEXTING emotional content!

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