RELATIONSHIPS Learn a new way to communicate with loved ones.
TALKING AT CROSS-PURPOSES CAN LEAVE US FEELING MISUNDERSTOOD AND DISILLUSIONED. WE NEED TO PUT OURSELVES IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SHOES, SAYS NATALIE LUE
“Ultimately, it’s not about getting our (or their) way – it’s about finding the right way for the
Have you ever had a lengthy discussion with a partner where you think you got your point across, only to later feel as if it went in one ear and out the other? Whether you’re in a relatively new relationship, or further down the line, repeatedly feeling misunderstood can cause problems. We might feel that we practically did a PowerPoint presentation to drive our point home, or maybe the other person even said that they ‘got it’. But then when the same issue or feeling comes up again, we feel utterly baffled as to why. This kind of situation can leave you feeling perplexed, frustrated or even disillusioned, and often this is the case for your partner, too, as they try to fathom what they’ve missed. This is talking at cross-purposes. It’s two people believing that they’re having a conversation when, in fact, they’re speaking in two di erent foreign languages.
Our ability to communicate, particularly in a relationship, is central to how understood we feel and our sense of connection. The more unseen and unheard we feel, the more our hopes and expectations remain unmet despite our best e orts to communicate them, and the more likely we are to question the viability of the relationship. Or, we become self-critical, leading to alienation, loneliness and unhappiness.
After the honeymoon period in a relationship, a power struggle sometimes ensues as it becomes apparent that each person is an individual entity with their own thoughts, feelings and habits. Each partner gets caught up on how they think the relationship ‘should’ be, as well as how the other person ‘should’ act, because it’s less vulnerable than both of you simply showing up as yourselves and seeing what happens next.
Speaking at cross-purposes without realising it is the result of assuming that we all approach things with the same moral outlook, the same thought process, the same perspective.
We’re so used to doing things in the way that we’ve always done them that we think what, why and how we feel is ‘right’. We then drive ourselves round the bend saying, “If it were me...” when somebody says or does something that doesn’t t with how we roll.
In reality, we each have our individual communication style – our language – that we’ve created and refined from childhood right through to adulthood. It’s influenced by a variety of factors, including the communication style of parents/ caregivers and other key people in our life, what we feel con dent about, a need for validation, hidden agendas, and what we consider to be threatening.
Let’s say that we observed our parents’ communication and discerned that it was based on one dropping hints and being passive aggressive to coerce the other into doing things or being ‘better’ in the relationship. Despite our best intentions, in this case our communication in relationships will likely go one of two ways. We’ll either replicate their behaviour, or we’ll overcompensate for their perceived errors by instead being short and direct to try and get what we want. We might not even realise we’re doing these things – they’re automatic. They become such a habit that when we encounter a situation that calls them into question, we become defensive.
Of course, not being able to understand each other is sometimes emblematic of incompatibility: fundamental di erences in core values (character and the direction you’re each heading) that, irrespective of any lengthy discussions, will result in pulling in di erent directions. But in other instances, it quite simply comes down to recognising that we need to get out of our head and stop clinging to the picture we’ve painted in our mind. Once we do that, not only will we be able to see where the other person is coming from, but we can then use this to explain ourselves in a way that they will be able to fully understand.
The purpose of our relationships is for us to heal, grow and learn. If we nd ourselves communicating in ways that didn’t work for our parents, or hinting at things rather than assertively saying them, it might be time for us to let go of the past and learn a new way of communication. Until we go the distance by clearly speaking up for ourselves, we might end up bailing on relationships or missing opportunities that bring us happiness and chances to grow in positive ways.
Ultimately, it’s not about getting our (or their) way; it’s about nding the right way for the relationship. Empathy is critical to create mutual love, care, trust and respect. We don’t always have to agree, but when each partner is open to understanding how somebody ticks, what their motivations are and even what presses their buttons, communication will come more easily and both will feel seen, heard and valued.
TALK IT OUT This month, Natalie shares more wise words about how to stop being a people-pleaser in our podcast. Search ‘In TheMoment magazine’ on iTunes, Spotify or Stitcher.