The Myth of Perfect Communication

by Terry Taylor-Smith

A common myth that stirs trouble for many couples is the idea that in relationships where people truly love one another, there is effortless and perfect communication. In such a mythic relationship, the members are always able to understand each other and communicate precisely what theyíre feeling. This idea is reinforced by romantic movies and TV shows that portray people in love as "mind-readers."

Reality is quite another matter. Members of a couple come from different families with different histories, a different set of family "rules" and a different cultural background. Even when both members speak the same native tongue and share the same cultural background, their families each have their own family "language." While in one family, for example, hugging and kissing and touching one another is the usual, expected behavior, in another family, touching is considered intrusive. Caring in the latter family might be expressed through working hard for each other, while physical affection is quite rare. The level of caring and commitment may be exactly the same in both families. It is just expressed differently.

Couples often come into marital counseling convinced that the other does not love them because the otherís form of expression is based in a different family language. Newlyweds often naively think they should understand each other perfectly from the very beginning. When that does not occur, disappointment and frustration often set in and couples begin to wonder what went wrong.

Sometimes couples therapy is primarily a matter of either helping the couple to become "bilingual," so that they understand each other's family language better, or of helping them find a mutual language different from either oneís original family tongue. Often, defining the problem as a language problem provides enormous relief. When a husband or wife discovers that his or her partner's resistance to touching doesnít mean "I donít love you" or "I reject you," but is instead a signal that "I'm uncomfortable with physical closeness," the problem becomes more manageable. They can then work together to teach each other comfortable parameters for showing affection. One can become more comfortable with touch while the other begins to explore other forms of expression for loving feelings.

Once a couple has learned to appreciate and understand each other's language, the myth of perfect communication does move closer to reality.

Date published: 2/22/00 1:11:39 PM
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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