I’ve had a few friends comment about my first post, A Vulnerable Man. They’ve said they need to do it more, but they find it hard. Others have said that it really speaks to them. I wondered if I was simply encouraging people to jump in the deep end before considering some basics about communicating in relationships of all kinds. Good communication is the absolute bedrock of a sound relationship and ensures that nobody is left wondering or building an internal narrative of events. And we’ve already established how nasty that can become!
As I look back now on past relationships, and in particular my longest one, which lasted over ten years, the basics of communication weren’t there. When two people don’t communicate, they don’t understand. And without understanding, there can be no connection. And without connection… I’m sure you get the picture. Communication isn’t just about letting her know you’ll pick up dinner on the way home or telling your friend you’ll be late to meet him and then continuing on with the superficialities of the day. It is something far deeper and is the link between thought and vulnerable actions.
What can we do to communicate more effectively in this world of social media and instant messaging, where people are often intimidated by a phone call and even more so by broaching the hard stuff in person? It might seem like a challenging thing, but for me, the first step is to simply be present with our partners, friends and family. Presence is the basis of true communication and without it we can’t get below the surface.
To encourage presence, I think the first key is to put that phone away! Whilst I absolutely love Instagram and occasionally have a passing fancy for Facebook, I know how they can get in the way of communication. I think of the number of times I’ve seen people so focused on their phones in a restaurant. And I’m not talking about someone taking out their phone to send a quick text when they’re with a group of friends. We’ve all done that, and I’m most certainly guilty of it. I mean two people, sitting opposite one another, just scrolling. The phone builds a wall between two people that cannot be taken down until it is put away and out of sight.
Presence for me also means actively listening. In my life as a teacher, I am constantly inciting my students to listen actively. This happens by facing the person and looking at them, taking in their words and reflecting back to them what they are expressing, and not thinking about questions that you have while your conversation partner is talking. Using open body language – that is not crossing your arms or legs and leaning slightly towards the person – also shows that you are listening and are supportive of the other person.
In addition to technology, there are other things in our hectic lives which can interrupt our present mind. I’ve mentioned above the narrative we build in our minds when we are not living in the present moment. We build these stories around all sorts of things that happen in our lives. From considering our shopping list while we’re driving to work, to thinking about that meeting in the morning when we’re lying in bed at night. We may think that these things are a good use of time – planning for the future – but often what is really happening is that we are trying to predict how something may play out. But the fact of the matter is that we can’t predict the future. Yes, we can prepare for it. But there is a time and a place for this. What do we actually achieve by spending our time in our heads developing stories? As far as I’m concerned, we create stress around imaginary situations or items forgotten at the shops!
I have experienced times in my most recent relationship where one or the other of us has not been entirely present. Speaking as the person who has at times not been present, I walk away from these conversations sometimes unsure of what has been intended with aspects of the discussion. And watching the other person struggle to be present can lead to not feeling heard and not feeling loved. Knowing how it feels to be on the receiving end of this has awakened me to a new level of connection that can only be achieved by presence. When both my partner and I have been present (which is, admittedly, most of the time), I leave feeling a completely nourished sense of self, with a deeper understanding of her and a stronger overall connection between us both. It makes me smile. If you’re not quite sure what this means, try it for yourself. I promise you will not be disappointed.