Relationship Failures Revisited
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I deal with
relationship issues every day. The most represented are
male/female couples, but increasingly same gender couples show up,
presenting with the same dynamic problems.
Couples start out friendly and the experience of "relating"
is novel. It is fun, dynamic and very stimulating. This
sustains couples for a couple of months. Usually, around the
third month, "things" settle down a little, and by the sixth month,
there is something of a routine.
It is about at this time that couples notice things about each
other that they do not like. Usually, this surfaces around an
event or activity, but more and more this annoys the other person,
just a little a first, more later. If couples do not "neutralize"
this trend, trouble will ensue. Tensions will build and sooner or
later an argument, or worse, will occur.
It is at this time that each partner must communicate.
Most couples will say something about what is the problem,
and most of the time this will suffice. If the couple continues
to communicate, this trend will not be much of a problem because
each partner resolves the tension as it occurs. Stressors resolved
at this incipient level are the easiest to fix, and continued
adherence to this practice helps ward off blowups down the road.
Failed relationships are the ones that do not pay attention to
this experience. Couples who "bury" their feelings, or ignore them
or just go to the gym to "work them off" are heading down the
"dark side." Trouble awaits those who do not "process" their
feelings in a healthy, and preferably sooner-rather-than-later manner.
As a psychologist, I have identified two essential components of
communication. They are Articulation of Process and Validation.
Communication occurs in levels. The things we talk about; that is,
the issue at hand occurs on the superficial levels. I call that
content. It is the event or thing about which we address each other.
This is verbal and comprises only about ten percent of what is
actually communicated. The other ninety percent is what I call
process. Process is non-verbal and includes the tone, volume,
speed of the spoken word, body language, etc. Most of what is
really communicated between two people is at the process level.
To articulate the process means that we put into words and
out-loud describe or say something about what we otherwise would not.
In other words, we use vocabulary to describe our process, not just
our content. For example, if I am angry, I say so, using a synonym
of anger. I don't just relay on my angry face to convey I am angry,
I say it, using a word that means the same as angry.
The second part, validation, occurs when my partner puts my
ideas into their words, and does so at both the content and process
levels. In other words, my partner shows understanding of what
I said, not just about the "issue" (content) but also about how I am
feeling about it (process). My partner does not have to use my
exact words to paraphrase me, just communicate that my two levels of
communication were, in fact, understood.
The effect of completing both sides of this communication is
that I feel relieved and honored. I have expressed myself and have
been heard. Notice that this does not mean my ideas were accepted
as true. My partner may feel I am full of beans, but s/he had the
presence of mind to hear me out and validate my experience(s) at both
levels. This lowers my tensions.
Now, my partner can reciprocate because s/he will undoubtedly
have their own perspective(s). They will hopefully speak about their
reactions and thoughts pertaining to my issue, and do so at both the
content and process levels. I, in turn will listen, then put their
ideas and feelings into words, thus relieving their tension and
honoring their experience.
This is a just a thumbnail of the complete process of getting
along in relationships. For more information, read my ebook, entitled,
"Why Relationships Fail," which can be found at my website.