Last week, we started a conversation about communication. I say the word “started” because there’s just so much to cover and understand. I will say this: fifteen minutes of reading about and thinking about the issues I raise will go a long way toward making your own couple relationship stronger, no matter what form that relationship takes.
This is the truth: No matter how close you are erotically to your partner, how many projects you do together, what hobbies you share, or how many backrubs you give each other, the thing that you’re going to do the most of in your marriage is talk.
Talk is how we mainly communicate. So let’s take a look at the kinds of talk you experience in your relationship, and how an understanding of what we say and how we hear it can strengthen your bonds for a life.
Level One Communication: Social Oil
I call the first kind of communication “level one communication.” We all know it well. It’s the kind of talking and listening that helps us through the day. It’s social oil. “Hello, how are you doing?” “Can you believe how much it snowed?” “Hot, isn’t it?” “Have a nice day.” “Here’s your change.” To be sure, I’m not putting down level one communication. Most of our interactions require it. Level one communications are a way that we can manage our energy, manage our relationships, and get from Point A to Point B in our busy lives. Problems only arise when we start using level one communication as our daily currency with people we care about a lot.
Level Two Communication: Just the Facts
The second kind of communication is “level two communication,” and it’s all about reporting the facts. The people involved in the communication share what they know, but not much more. A lot of unemotional problem solving involves level two communications. When your car is making a strange noise and you take it to the shop (and hopefully, an honest shop!), you and the mechanic will share information and report such facts to each other that are aimed to solve the problem. You don’t care much about that mechanic’s inner life, and s/he is not terribly interested in your own. You’ve got a job to do in the communicating, and you do it. Nothing wrong with that, either. It’s a notch up from level one communication, but also how we get through our days.
Level Three Communication – Opinions
Level three communication means starting to open up. You’ve got opinions, judgments, and reactions to things. You know the person you’re talking with well enough that you can risk sharing them. Mind you, you’re sensitive to the reactions! You might advance when the reaction is encouraging, but retreat if you find your conversation partner bristling or rejecting. What you say has much to do with who you’re saying it to, and how that person is reacting. Opinions can be about many things, from quality of a lasagna to the quality of a movie to the quality of how your partner is relating to your children. There’s joy in sharing them, but there’s also risk. Rejection hurts. You learn over time with whom you can share opinions, and how much you can share. You’re still not free to talk without monitoring yourself.
Level Four Communication: Transparency
There aren’t that many people in the world that you can be completely open with, right? Transparency means sharing the real you. We share transparency for our spouses and maybe a few other folks with whom we are close. When we’re transparent, two become one. When we’re transparent, we know that our partner can tolerate us and even their own discomfort at what we might be saying, because there is so much connection. When we reach the level of transparency, we can talk about our feelings without fear, and find the safe harbor in another. Perfect love casts out perfect fear.
I’m not all that big on New Year’s resolutions. But resolving to seek transparency in our love relationships isn’t like resolving to lose twenty pounds. It’s a resolution that reshape our futures on the most profound levels.
Resolved, the year 2013 will be a year of greater transparency with the loves of our lives!