Whew. The couple mentioned in The Danger Zone reached a complete deadlock in their communication with each other…wouldn’t you agree? What started out as tiny, subtle changes in their conversation evolved into a full communication breakdown. It was like a two-way radio with an increasingly warped signal. Both were shouting all day into the receiver, while the other heard only static. Neither one was getting through.
Unlike on a radio, real-life communication occurs in many ways other than verbal language. Although this is the case, we commonly feel it is the use of words which are necessary to express or validate our feelings. In a way, we feel dependent on words to externalize what’s inside of us. That’s natural, and it’s the reason we’re drawn toward writers or musical artists who can express what we’ve never been able to put into words. They have solved a mystery within and completed a work of self-expression for us. The unknown territory has been replaced with a map.
Consider, however, the consequences of being reliant on words alone. We remain illiterate—or at least not literate enough—even when we’re presented with solid information through non-verbal forms of communication. Because of our strong dependence on words, our ability to read between the lines becomes skewed, in effect causing us to easily misread or misinterpret a situation. This is a great danger that must be rectified if we are hoping for the healthiest relationship possible. It’s crucial to learn how to read and navigate these wordless spaces, because an enormous amount of information is continuously being conveyed to us within the absence of words.
Let’s take a closer look at the four different forms of unspoken communication we’ll be discussing; listening, silence, actions, and body language. Take note of how these styles play out in your own relationship, then create an action plan to make improvements where you feel they’re necessary.
LISTEN: People want to be heard when they feel moved to speak about something. It assures us that what we have to say has value. When your husband attempts to communicate with you about his wants and/or needs—even if they seem trivial or insignificant to you—how do you respond? Do you dismiss him? Vaguely pay attention? Ignore him? Get defensive? Become agitated? Do you hear what he’s saying to you? Do you listen to him? Do you listen closely, using your whole body to convey your interest?
If your husband attempts to communicate with you regarding any issues in your relationship, be sensitive to what he’s expressing to you. Validate his concerns by giving him your complete attention. STOP what you’re doing, put your phone on silent and tuck it away somewhere, sit down with him, look him in the eyes, and focus on his words. Be in-tune to not only what he’s saying, but how he’s saying it. If your husband opens up to you about anything in an honest and humble way, pay attention to what he’s telling you and even take the extra step to put yourself in his shoes; be empathetic if at all possible. And if the moment he comes to you won’t permit you to be completely focused on the conversation, nicely tell him you would rather speak later when you can give him your undivided attention.
Your husband may feel vulnerable about sharing his feelings because he doesn’t want to be perceived as weak (by either you or himself), take the chance of having his feelings dismissed, or run the risk of triggering an argument. These fears can make any man hesitant to freely open up about feelings or concerns. If your husband displays the slightest bit of vulnerability, but decides to take the chance and open up anyway, don’t shut him down. Let him know you genuinely care about what he has to say so he feels comfortable speaking with you.
In general, men are not quite as open as women when it comes to conversing about relationship issues. We naturally want to talk, talk, and talk some more about them; with our partner, family, friends, and most of all–our hair dresser. As a matter of fact, some men will even avoid these conversations about relationship topics, so there’s not even a chance for an unhealthy situation to improve. If your husband is the one coming to you, be wise and listen sincerely to his concerns or needs; take what he has to say to heart.
Treat him how you would want to be treated: with understanding, compassion, and the comfort of a good friend. Make him feel secure that he can confide in you about his desires or any discontentment he feels about certain aspects of your relationship. Don’t be counterproductive by getting defensive, emasculating him, or making him feel like his needs are insignificant. These types of actions will only invalidate his feelings, and I think we can all agree–it feels terrible when our emotions are dismissed by someone who’s opinion matters to us.
It’s also very important to demonstrate to him you are listening with your whole body, using your posture, nodding, and expressions to show that his act of boldness is valued and heard. But the buck does not stop there. There should be immediate and sustained action in response to his concerns or needs. While the act of listening occurs in the moment, the true test that one has actually been heard happens in the time that follows.
SILENCE: We like it when people spell things out for us verbally, don’t we? It gives us certainty we understand a situation in its entirety. However, verbal communication is only a fraction of how we interact with each other. There is a plethora of information available to us in the spaces between the words; we just have to be in-tune to hear the message the silence is telling us.
Let me share an example of what I’m talking about. A friend of mine was head-over-heels for a guy. She was so enamored that she became blind to the superficial reality of the relationship, which was mostly texting and occasionally getting together to have sex. At first he would text her ‘love you’ once in a while, but eventually, he stopped. She would still text him ‘I love you’ and even say it to him in person, but he no longer responded with words, written or verbal.
Why do you suppose that is? Did the cat get his tongue? Or maybe his texting thumbs broke? Or—the most likely option—he no longer felt love for her and could not justify saying so. Even though he made it crystal clear through his silence he no longer felt love for her, she remained hopelessly confused about his feelings for her. In this case, his silence was the communication. My friend did not want to believe the message and so chose to remain in a self-induced state of denial.
Sometimes we want to hear something vocalized so desperately because we believe words validate the truth. Anyone can say anything they want, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the words they speak hold any validity to them. What if he decided to keep telling her that he loved her simply out of guilt, with no true emotion behind them? His words would have been a complete lie; filled with emptiness. She refused to believe what his silence told her, because she didn’t want to accept the fact he didn’t feel love for anymore. But if she would’ve paid attention to his absence of words, if she could have read the silence, then she would’ve saved herself a lot of time and confusion.
Can you think of any issues in your own relationship where your words are met with silence? Or, do you use silence as a means to communicate certain feelings to your husband? Raise your awareness about what his silence tells you, as well as what your silence is conveying to him.
ACTIONS: We all know the old cliché, Actions Speak Louder Than Words. Do you overlook this form of communication, or do you mindfully observe the actions of people in your life? How about in your relationship? Are your husband’s words and actions in sync? If he tells you he loves you, does he also show you? If he says he’s still attracted to you, does he seek out intimacy with you? If he says he wants to make you happy, does he do the things he knows will make you feel happy?
On the flip side, take a self-examination to make sure your words and actions are in alignment to avoid sending any mixed messages. If you’re still attracted to him, do you show him affection and pursue him to be sexually intimate? Do you tell him you love him and ever follow up with a loving gesture?
Your actions tell the true story of your thoughts and emotions, so check yourself and make sure both your actions and words are in alignment; adjust if necessary. And if your husband’s actions and words do not match up, bring it to his attention, and let him know in a loving way your observations. When our actions and words align, it says an awful lot about the integrity we possess as a person, don’t you think?
BODY LANGUAGE: We’re all well versed in this form of unspoken language, and by statistics, use this form to communicate with each other the most. How many conversations have you had with someone you know, or even a complete stranger with only the use of facial gestures? Or posture? Or expression through body movement? You can have a whole conversation with one of your girlfriends through just eye movements, or let your child know they’ve done something wrong by the way you stand in their bedroom doorway and shoot them the ‘you’re in BIG trouble’ look.
Observe body language signals you and your husband regularly send to each other. Body language offers a tremendous amount of information about your relationship, and by paying close attention, you can condition yourself to be in-tune to what your body and his are subtly telling each other.
If your husband is late coming home from work again, and you’re thoroughly annoyed by this, how do you greet him? With a warm smile and a sweet hello? Um, I doubt it. He’s more than likely met with at least one raised eyebrow–probably two, a stern look at your cell phone as you swipe it on to check the time, and possibly some hand-on-hip action. How about when he’s going through a rough time? You probably hug him lovingly, gently rub his back, and give him an understanding and reassuring look that everything is going to be okay. Does your body language ever send a sexual message, like when you walk by him, do you grab him, or give him a sexy and flirtatious look to indicate you’re interested in being intimate? Or when he climbs into bed and is looking for some action, he might start rubbing your thigh or butt, kiss your shoulder, or place your hand on his hard-on. You then respond through your own body language. If you’re interested, you engage in his advances or push his hand away, grunt, and turn over, indicating complete disinterest.
These everyday examples are simply meant to show you just how much we non-verbally communicate with one another, and how much is said through this style of communication. Be mindful of the messages you’re sending him and see if there’s a repeat pattern happening, positive or negative, in what your body language is telling him. Also, observe what his body language is saying to you–there is a load of information he’s sharing with you…what’s it telling you?
This post about the unspoken languages of communication was written to help heighten your awareness of these different styles of communication and how you can improve upon them if necessary in your own relationship. If ALL of your communication skills don’t once again become sharpened and you allow communication to continually slip away, the day will inevitably come (if it hasn’t already) when you look at your husband and ask yourself, ‘What happened to our strong connection with each other? Who is this stranger? Why don’t I feel anything anymore? When on earth did this happen? Jeez, we don’t even talk unless it’s about work or the kids.’
In order to avoid this conversation with yourself, you must keep a constant dialog with each other about everything important (and even insignificant) in your lives. Communicate verbally about sex, love, intimacy, goals, emotions, hardships, dreams, finances, child rearing, concerns, desires, work related topics…share everything! And communicate non-verbally by listening to each other, paying attention to silence, observing actions, and having an awareness of what your body language is saying to each other.
Take the first step, and encourage him in a loving way to follow your lead–so you can both be on the same path to a more open, loving, and communicative relationship.
The next blog post will continue on to the topic of