Finding Strength in Real Communication

Via Wendy Strgar
on Sep 30, 2011
get elephant's newsletter

Relationship Bootcamp: Week 3


The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t being said.”Anonymous


The strength and endurance training in any and all relationships starts and ends with the capacity for communication. I have often called our communication skills the currency of a relationship, because it is literally the air that lives between people that makes their relationship vital or suffocating. It is perhaps the most complex set of skills that healthy relationships require because it is close to impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood. This is not only because our spoken words make up only a small fraction of the myriad ways we communicate. We also communicate through our tone of voice, facial expressions and body language.

The biggest complication is that we often communicate without fully understanding the needs, desires and judgments we are expressing.

It is no wonder that communication issues are frequently identified as the most challenging aspect of relating and the place where relationships falter. We stubbornly hang onto the belief that if we have expressed ourselves clearly, the communication is made. This belief overlooks the fact that other people can only hear you when they are moving towards you, which is usually not happening when they feel like they are being pursued by your words. The healing revelation in relationships occurs when we recognize that the most powerful experience in communicating happens through listening and not expression.

Learning to listen is not an easy skill to develop and is arguably in short supply in many relationships and even in life itself. To listen well we must begin by recognizing that the most important thing we give to someone we love is our full attention, free of judgment and expectation. We must be willing to open to the loving silence which real listening requires.  Cultivating this internal quiet slows down the interaction so that you hear not just the words, but the meaning behind them. Communication transforms into connection when we listen not for what someone knows but for who they are.

This kind of communication is the moment our relationships create grace. It carries a truly magnetic current that pulls both people into full presence and allows both parties to unfold and know themselves and each other. Truth telling, even the most difficult truths are able to be expressed in the shelter of this being heard, which is so similar to being loved that most people can’t tell them apart.

The following story has many classic communication issues. Which can you identify?  How do the communications get crossed between them? How do they misinterpret this miscommunication? Where is the breakthrough?

~ * * * * * * ~

Jenny didn’t hear her voice getting louder the way Mark did. He never raised his voice and went from annoyed to stony in a matter of minutes when Jenny’s requests got loud. She had grown up in a house where people yelled all the time. At good moments between them, they laughed at what a cruel trick their marriage was- they couldn’t have been any more different… But more often their arguments took more of their attention.

In truth they had never really understood how to talk to each other. They shared a simmering attraction and deep tenderness for each other but their communication was usually a mess.  Jenny would ask Mark to do things with her around the house and invite him to do special things like drive to the beach.  She was convinced she was clear, but it seemed like almost every plan she envisioned with him went a different way. He would show up late with the paint and with the wrong color or invite his best friend to come to the beach with them. Mark usually had no idea that Jenny was frustrated. He thought she was just moody.

Each time she communicated the edge between them seemed to grow in her mind. Even small requests like taking out the garbage or picking up dinner started with an elevated tone that Jenny didn’t even hear  and that sent Mark further away from her.

Mark’s retreat only confirmed for Jenny that he never listened to her or even cared about what she said. For his part, Mark just was trying to stay out of the line of fire, as it seemed to him, he couldn’t do anything right.

One evening, Jenny broke down in the kitchen after a particularly painful argument.

She felt terrible about the mean things she had said to Mark, but she wanted to hurt him the way she felt hurt and abandoned. She sat crying with her head in her hands. Mark sat down next to her. Neither one spoke. The silence between them softened and Mark put his hand on her leg.

Jenny looked up and saw him holding her in his gaze with no malice. He said, “I am not trying to hurt you, really. I guess I don’t know how to listen to you.” Jenny cried harder and leaned into Mark’s chest.

“I didn’t know how to tell you how much I wanted you to hear me.”  She said.

~ * * * * * * ~

Consider a communication story that is challenging in your own life.  What are you trying to say that isn’t being heard?  Do you know what your partner needs to feel heard? Replay the last frustrating conversation in your mind and imagine if you had inserted this question into the conversation. Would it have changed the direction of the conversation?

Listening Practice: Next time you find yourself boiling with something you need to express, try to stop and listen inside. What needs to be heard? Give yourself 5- 10 minutes of quiet to see what comes to the top of all the words waiting to spill out of you.

~ * * * * * * ~

When we come to the important conversations in our life with the will to listen inside and to those we love, it turns our ability to communicate inside out. We get to the heart of what communication has to offer- a feeling of deep connection and of being seen for who we are.  Cultivating the silence that allows your partnership to unfold before your eyes makes all the day to day logistical communicating a simpler practice because it isn’t burdened with the invisible weight of being heard.


About Wendy Strgar

Wendy Strgar, founder and CEO of Good Clean Love, is a loveologist who writes and lectures on Making Love Sustainable, a green philosophy of relationships which teaches the importance of valuing the renewable resources of love, intimacy and family. In her new book, Love that Works: A Guide to Enduring Intimacy, she tackles the challenging issues of sustaining relationships and healthy intimacy with an authentic and disarming style and simple yet innovative advice. It has been called "the essential guide for relationships." The book is available on ebook, as well as in paperback online. Wendy has been married for 27 years to her husband, a psychiatrist, and lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.


14 Responses to “Finding Strength in Real Communication”

  1. […] the air that lives between people that makes their relationship vital or suffocating.” (Wendy Strgar) What is it about polite mannerly interaction and the word “you“. The oblique/objective […]

  2. […] that shape our thoughts and actions, our characters and traits, our quirks and idiosyncrasies, our strengths and weaknesses, our fears and habits, our loves and hates. They might appear to us now as childhood […]

  3. […] Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, “Loveologist” Wendy Strgarbut (previously featured in Elephant Journal) and Jeanne Rizzo, the president and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund. By: […]

  4. […] frame it another way, in any situation, ask yourself: “Am I causing harm to myself or another with my […]

  5. […] Pose these questions, and let the answers speak for themselves. People fall in and out of love all the time. I think the real question to ask is, “Have I truly fallen out of love, or is my lack of feeling for my husband a stage in my process?” […]

  6. […] are communicators. They can give, receive, deceive, play, love, defend, attack and so forth.So much of our language […]

  7. […] I say in all seriousness that I consider male or female charm fair game in any negotiation, because rapport is important in all human interactions. But a conclusion that flirtatious behavior yields superior results in […]

  8. […] Autism is a disorder that’s characterized by a lack of ability to communicate. It’s a diagnosis that encompasses a massive range of attributes. Some autistic people are highly verbal and socially aware. Others can barely speak a word. Some are highly resourceful and self-sufficient. Some need round the clock care. Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that there are vast range of expressions it can take. The one thing, however, that links most of those with the disorder is an inability to understand and initiate communication. […]

  9. […] Zoning out after you hear the words, “I need to talk to you. You’re not going to believe what just happened. Can we talk?” I’m really not so bad […]

  10. […] We stress communication and respect in our home, so we were faced with an interesting predicament: were our lessons leaving this little boy unprepared for “real” life? Xavy has always been a bit of an old soul. He’s far more mature than I on most days, and this fact bothers him to no end. He seems to have been pre-programed with an unparallelled sense of logic paired with the most gentle, sensitive nature. The bullying wounded him. […]