Talk To Me: On Relationships & Effective Communication
If I asked what you think the hardest part of being in a relationship is, I bet you’d probably mention things like staying committed, trusting your partner, not getting bored etc. Well, truth is, those things are quite difficult just like several other factors that makes being with another individual longterm incredibly hard. However, as I continue to wade my way through this pot of beans world of ours, I’m starting to arrive at the conclusion that the hardest thing to do when in a longterm relationship with another human being is…
Surprising right? I know. A part of me is still in denial too but let me state my case and then you get your chance to tell me what you think at the end.
To begin, for the sake of clarity, let us define this word “communicate”. According to the Oxford dictionary, it means:
Share or exchange information, news, or ideas.
‘the prisoner was forbidden to communicate with his family’
(of two people) be able to share and understand each other’s thoughts and feelings.
‘we don’t seem to be communicating—we need a break from each other’
The first definition talks about the exchange of information while the second one, which focuses more on the action between two people talks about sharing and understanding each other’s thoughts and feelings.
I really like this second definition. I think it absolutely defines the word and leaves no room for ambiguities. Now that we are clear on the definition, let me ask another question. How many times has your boy/girlfriend, significant other, partner, spouse asked you this seemingly simple question: “Are you ok?” and you know for sure that the answer you gave did not capture your actual thoughts and feelings?
Before you answer that, let me just say that there are several versions of that same question. It can be any of the following:
Is everything all right with you (us)?
Are you mad at me?
Is there something I did?
Ok, so we’re starting to paint a picture now. For those who are very vocal among us, I’m sure you’re already itching to respond and say something like “but I say what’s on my mind” all the time. Yes, you’re probably correct. I know a lot of people who can’t hide their feelings. The moment they feel a certain way, they just blurt it out. But let’s remember, the word we are dealing with here is communication. Even in ‘blurting’ out how you’re feeling, your partner still needs to be able to understand your thoughts. Without this, you can’t actually say you’ve communicated with this person.
I’ve written a lot about men and our ego. I’ve also written a lot about women and emotions. These two factors which are almost always present in our day to day lives play very major roles in limiting our ability to communicate with each other. And I’m sure by now you’ve figured out that when I use the word ‘communicate’ I’m talking about the heavy stuff. Anyone can tell their partner how their day went or talk them through a new show they’re watching. But how does a guy communicate his poor sexual experience to a chic he has pursued for years? How does a chic communicate her disappointment in bed to a guy she has painted all over her social media accounts?
How does a jobless husband effectively communicate his frustration at not being able to provide for his family? How does a wife effectively communicate the constant ridicule she faces in the hands of her mother-in-law for being childless to her husband?
How do you tell your boyfriend he needs to make more money if he plans to marry you someday and how do you tell your girlfriend her cooking is terrible?
As with every other thing in life, there are several approaches to this communication thing. Many of you are experts when it comes to body language probably because we were raised with that. Growing up, your mom could stare at you five different times and you’d understand what she meant every single time. I think this approach is common with women. The occasional drawn out stare, the pout, rolling of the eyes etc.
For guys, many of us seem to think ‘not communicating’ is in fact a way to communicate. Call it the silent treatment or whatever, but I found it interesting while researching this article that a lot of guys actually do this – especially when they are mad about something, they just seem to shut down.
Those are some common ways we all communicate in our relationships. I also discovered there are some ‘not so gender specific’ but quite popular ways people in relationships communicate. One example is writing letters, notes, long text messages, emails etc. The basic idea is to pass information from A to B using some kind of medium (mostly electronic/digital nowadays).
As awesome and seemingly convenient some of these forms of communication are, the one question I want to know is, how effective are they? Go back to the examples of tough questions I gave above and tell me if you can effectively communicate any of those things using body language, silent treatment or even an email. Of those three examples, you could probably argue that one can communicate pretty much anything through an email but remember our definition of communication – sharing and understanding each other’s thoughts and feelings. I love the internet and technology but I’m sure you’ll agree with me that no amount of ‘xo xo’s” you use in an email can communicate your emotions better than real hugs and kisses.
This brings me to my point. If we all agree that the best form of communication is the physical, one on one, eyeball to eyeball, ‘talk ya own, I talk my own‘ type, why do we as Nigerians or maybe even Africans struggle with it so much – especially in our relationships.
I have a theory and I don’t know how well I can prove it but we all grew up in a society where almost all tribes have cultures that frown at speaking up. Children or younger adults are not allowed to challenge their elders even when they are obviously wrong and even among elders, when challenging another man, you are encouraged to do so “respectfully” in the corner as opposed to doing it publicly so as not to shame your fellow man. If this is our culture and our reality, how then can you find it easy to look your loved one in the eye and tell them – ‘dude, you just aint hittin’ it right!’
Add this cultural issue to the other limiting factors I mentioned earlier – ego and emotions and what you have is a problem I honestly do not know where or how to start solving it. Knowing what I do now, I’ve gone over some of my past relationships and realized how much more different things could have been if one or even both of us had communicated more. And nowadays in my marriage, I still have to constantly remind myself to communicate my feelings CLEARLY whenever the need arises.
I have a no-regrets and full disclosure policy when it comes to longterm relationships and many people don’t understand why. When I discovered how important effective communication is in any relationship, I realized that every information you deliberately hold back from your partner is like an untreated wound. And you know what happens to them? The longer it stays untreated, the more it festers. And someday it’s going to stink so bad you’ll no longer be able to hide it and when it comes out, that body part would have to be amputated to save the rest of your body.
On that grim note, I’d like us to jump into the dialogue. Do you agree that communication is possibly one of the most important elements in a relationship? What about face-to-face communication for you is so easy or difficult? What are some gimmicks you’ve developed to get out of talking to your partner. Use the comment box to express you.