We Can’t Communicate—Or At Least That’s What We Tell Ourselves

By: Jared Anderson

It is unlikely that you and your partner can’t communicate. It just seems that way. Before you click out of this article and chalk up the first line to the musings of a deranged or incompetent counselor, hear me out. Yes, for some couples, communication could be a major problem—but that’s unlikely in your case. Here’s why…….

I am assuming you both hold down full time jobs (including if one of you is the primary caretaker for your child or children). In these jobs, you communicate with a diverse set of co-workers, vendors, and customers on a daily basis. You’ve never been written up for poor communication. Oh yeah, that’s right, YOU aren’t the problem, it’s your partner. Well, my guess is that your partner has never been written up for poor communication either.

So, if you both have, dare I say, the skills to communicate well, then why are the conversations between the two of you so maddening at times. There are a couple of reasons for this.

  1. We often equate good communication with agreement. I’m right so if my partner disagrees with me then he or she just doesn’t get it (or get me) and, therefore, we have a communication problem.  
  2. When we disagree, it often seems personal and we quickly get defensive. You’re not disagreeing with my idea you are disagreeing with me
  3. When it seems personal (or becomes personal) then we tend to go on the offensive to protect our identity. What started as a discussion on whether to buy whole or shredded cabbage becomes a yelling match that includes raised voices, name-calling, biting sarcasm, and eye rolling.

Such escalation from a simple starting point can be unnerving. What’s wrong with us? Do we not love each other anymore? Does my partner not care about me? It’s easy to go down that rabbit hole of doubt as we search for answers. If cabbage can cause us to fight like that, then we must have a problem—clearly, we can’t communicate!

So, what do we do, avoid cabbage? Use a mediator in all future communications? Learn to mime?

No, but it’s important to recognize that this is normal! Unless you and your partner are extreme avoiders (a topic for another day), then you have been down this road before…..many times. On the other hand, these types of interactions make us miserable and are not productive.

What can we do to decrease these cabbage fights.

  1. Recognize that disagreement is a normal, healthy, important part of any marriage and long-term relationship. You are two different people. You don’t see eye to eye on all issues. You have different interests and passions. And because you are two different people with different ideas and thoughts, sometimes you will disagree. This is not only okay, but great! Disagreement allows you to understand different viewpoints, to learn, to consider alternatives, and to better understand your own position.
  2. Work on not taking disagreement personally. Easier said than done, I know. If you love hiking in the mountains and your partner says, “I can’t think of anything more boring and pointless than walking uphill”, does that have to be a comment about you? Can they hold a strong opinion that differs from your own? Of course, they know you well so they may be purposely trying to tweak you—don’t take the bait. If you feel yourself getting defensive ask yourself these questions:
    • Is this about me or is this about our differences?
    • Why do I always take my partner’s disagreement personally?
    • Why do I need to be right in this instance?
  3. Be clear what the argument is really about. It’s never about the cabbage, so stop fighting about the cabbage. Are you frustrated because you feel your ideas are too easily dismissed? Do you feel like you have to do it your partner’s way most of the time? These issues will never be addressed if cabbage remains the culprit. Instead, find a time of relative calm to address what you’re really concerned about and make it clear why the issue is important to you.

We all have our cabbage arguments from time to time. We’re tired, stressed, and often don’t have the energy to keep our emotional equilibrium. We can pick ourselves up from these relational potholes.

But for some of us, every conversation we have gets side tracked into accusations, escalations, and hurt feelings. Our relationship is littered with instances of pain and hurt, resulting in our inability to confide in each other, take each other’s words in good faith, and be open with our thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately, communication skills won’t solve these problems. Healing these relationship fissures, rebuilding trust, and renewing your friendship will create the foundation for smoother conversations.

If you or someone you know is mired in relationship conflict, contact us for a free 15 minute consultation to see if we can help.