Communication: why sometimes is it so tricky?


How many times have you found yourself asking: “Why is my boyfriend not getting that?” or “I said X and she understood Y. I don’t understand… I thought it was clear!”

Communication is a fundamental component of our social interactions; but no matter how important it is, it can be a source of misunderstandings and conflicts.

The art of communicating may seem so easy to learn but it can easily get tricky, especially when the content of the message implies feelings, emotions, fears and expectations about relationships. When emotions and delicate issues are involved, it is very easy to communicate in a not-so-efficient way and at the same time to misinterpret what the other person is telling us.

Why does this happen? 

First of all it is important to distinguish between two elements of communication that are always involved in each piece of information we share: non-verbal and verbal communication.

Verbal communication refers to the content of the message that is shared through language while non-verbal communication refers to the information delivered through our body (e.g. the distance from our interlocutor, our body language, etc.) and our paralinguistic (e.g. the tone of our voice, volume, speed, etc.).

Those two elements aren’t always on the same page: many times the two elements are discordant.

I guess that being mad at someone but not wanting to share it with that person happens to everyone; it is very likely that even if the content of our communication was not “aggressive”, our body and our tone of voice were signalling this anger and the other person very likely recognised it.

Scientists showed indeed that the majority of the information is delivered through non-verbal signals and only a very small percentage through verbal ones. This means that when we interpret a message we give much more importance to how the person is delivering it then to the effective verbal content.

Furthermore, communicating emotion-related information in an ambiguous and vague way (e.g. omitting information) may represent another source of misunderstandings. In front of a vague but important communication or when a potential threat is perceived, it is very easy to interpret the message applying our own personal meanings and symbols, especially when we experience intense emotional states. This means that we may apply our own interpretations based on our personal history, on our deepest fears or on our personal beliefs. In these instances the risk of misinterpreting or distorting information is right behind the corner, as well as the risk of consequently behaving in a defensive way, either attacking the interlocutor or maybe leaving the conversation. In each case these reactions worsen the communication process.

Very often many problems in relationships and in couples are triggered by distortions in communication (expressing information or either interpreting it) and in many cases just a few expedients could help preventing misunderstandings.

Either you feel like having often troubles expressing yourself or interpreting what your partner is telling you, don’t worry because communication is an art that can be learnt and improved.

Psychotherapy can help you with this issue, making you learn and experience an assertive style of communication, recognise what are the automatic personal interpretations that you tend to apply and learn how to better manage them.

I am how you want me to be: when complacency comes too easy in relationships

“And you don’t know I much I loved you,

how much wasted love,

silently waiting for you to see me 

and to understand what you already know, 

that I am how you want me to be,

how you want me to be.

I am the only one you can love,

don’t you see that I am only a few steps away from you?”

“Sono come tu mi vuoi “, I. Grandi

Complacency and relationships

Being complacent is a normal attitude that in small doses everybody uses.

As a matter of fact, a little bit of complacency in our daily lives is necessary: we are not always completely free to be who we are, to say what is on our mind or to bring forth what we desire. A bit of complacency and adherence to the rules that society requires us to apply to, are the basis of living in a civilised world.

Sometimes complacency can add up to becoming much more invasive, prying into relationships and hiding our real true self. Herein, we are talking about the “false self”, a psychoanalytic concept formerly theorised by Donald Winnicott.

False self is a defensive barrier that protects us from not being hurt by others; in extreme cases it can completely conceal the true self, making it very difficult to reach.

False self can take the form of complacency in relationships, especially in a couple: acting in order to meet our partner’s expectations can be a strategy to prevent a very feared rejection.

Trying our best to avoid what we fear is a normal behaviour, it is our natural instinct that protects us from being hurt. But when complacency gets too intense, when we try our best to be who we think that our partner wants us to be and by doing so we deny ourselves and our desires … we expose ourselves to risk much more than we could imagine.

What are the consequences?

What is the long term outcome of such a relationship? Where do our desires and spontaneity end up? Can we be really sure about how our partner would like us to be?  Moreover, will our partner be really satisfied by having a faux but apparently perfect partner?

There are not straightforward answers to these questions.  Every relationship is different, it implies two extraordinary and unique human beings, bonding together and creating special dynamics.

However, we know that not listening to who we are and what we want can bring us to a long-term dissatisfaction, a feeling of emptiness, of not being alive and in the end to a difficulty in reading ourselves. In addition, we can imagine how those feelings could affect the mood and happiness of a person and consequently put the couple at stake.

The attitude of creating complacent relationships usually founds its roots in our early years and it is a signal of a suffering area, linked to the fear of being rejected, not loved or criticised when we show our real selves.

What can you do about it?

If this rings a bell, sit back and relax, there’s nothing to worry about! Being aware of this attitude is the first step to change.

Moreover, taking care of our suffering areas is the best way to build healthy relationships and, above all, to contribute to our wellbeing and happiness.

As soon as you become aware of any related dynamics like the aforementioned, take some time to think it through and if you feel like you need help seek advice and contact a psychotherapist or a counsellor.