One of the most common problems couples complain about is communication. In our mentoring work we are continually confronted with couples who believe they can "work out" their differences simply by talking. But, thoughts, language and the use of words make up just one form of comunication. We debate, dialogue, question, complain, argue, pursuade, cajole, profess, and in various other ways use words to convey information. When couples get trapped into thinking that words alone are what communication is all about relationships - even really good ones - tend to get bogged down in endless rounds of verbal processing.
While talking is vital, and most couples can use help in saying what they are experiencing, communication goes far beyond the spoken word. Marcia and I often remind couples, "Less talk generally equals more expression." Couples who rely exclusively on words often end up "discuss-dead." Expression, on the other hand, happens on multiple levels. Our emotions, actions, and physical contact are vital aspects of full expression.
Emotionally, couples communicate when they laugh, cry, tremble in fear, release their anger, reveal their delight and express needs, love and gratitude. This is not just saying words, but actually opening up to the real emotions. Most of us are cued into certain feeling states and cut off from others. One may feel anger but be unaware of need-- another may be able to cry but not express clear "self-affirming" anger. What feelings do you have trouble expressing?
Behavioral communication is essentially how we "speak" through our actions. Do you notice how your partner converses in behavioral language? Does s/he let you know you are important, protected, adored, feared, disliked, or ignored? Actions do indeed speak louder that words, yet they are often overlooked. Recently, a woman was complaining about her spouse's lack of sharing. I asked her to give an example of when she knew how he really feels about her. She recalled a time recently when she had been away from home for a long and exhausting day and she didn't get home until very late. He had to leave on a trip before she arrived, but when she finally got there she went to the bedroom and found her favorite pajamas folded and layed out on top of her pillow. He had spoken to her very clearly.
Physically, it may not be an over-statement to say that our ability to make bodily contact is our primary mode of communication. Couples can talk about their problems until they are "blue in the face", but unless there is pyhsical connection they will never really surmount their differences. Full intimacy involves touch. If couples wait until they "talk out" their problems before they touch or make love, they may be in for a very long wait. So much is communicated through our tenderness, erotic contact, comforting, playfulness and everyday physical contact that words are insufficient to describe it. Couples who are physical are communicating on the most elemental of levels.
In our mentoring work we engage couples on all these levels. Anything less is inadequate communication. Learning to express our emotions, meet each other through touch, and reveal ourselves through our actions are as essential to communication as the words we speak.