Hello readers old and new, we’re back again for more chat time about infidelity. Ketchup: I wrote my senior thesis on infidelity. Instead of pushing the whole paper on my blog, I’m breaking down the subject of infidelity in easily digestible chunks, ending with my actual thesis. Last time I talked about a tip to prevent infidelity: make sure you’re dating someone you actually want to date. Today we’re going to focus on communication.
Communication is complicated. When you have a problem, people usually respond by saying “just communicate.” If you’re like most people you just kind of nod instinctively like oh yes, of course, quite, communication, I do say. That’s because you’re now in your 20s or 30s or 40s or however old you are and you feel like it’s too late to admit the horrifying truth. You actually have no idea what communication means or how to do it. You just know that it somehow transcends talking. Talking is too easy. Communication is more like… taxes. There are rules. There are ways to get more back. If you don’t do it in time, ho boy.
Communication Tip #1: Mirroring
And I can’t help but notice
You reflect in this heart of mine
Justin Timberlake knows the drill. Mirroring allows you and your partner to really make sure you’re hearing one another. That’s because you’re forced to repeat back what your partner said, word for word. Enjoy this scenic example.
Partner 1: I feel like when we’re talking to one another you’re not really listening to me, you’re just planning what you’re going to say back.
Partner 2: You feel like when we’re talking to one another I’m not really listening to you, I’m just planing what I’m going to say back.
Partner 2: Is that correct?
Partner 1: Yes.
Partner 2: Is there anything else?
Partner 1: Yes. I know you don’t mean it, but I feel like you don’t give me as much attention as you used to. I would love it if you looked at me when we talked.
Partner 2: You know that I don’t mean it that way, but you feel like I’m not giving you much attention. You want me to look at you more.
Partner 2: Is that right?
Partner 1: Kind of… it’s not just looking at me, it’s being really attentive. Paying attention and investing in the conversations we have together.
Partner 2: You feel that the way I communicate is not as attentive as you’d like, is that right?
Partner 1: Yes.
What did partner 1 and 2 learn? Partner 1 admitted that they did not feel heard, but they offered up specific examples as to why that was. Their partner was not showing non-verbal signs that they were listening. Looking at them, nodding, offering thoughtful commentary, whatever it was that they did before was lacking now. Telling your partner to mirror you forces them to understand exactly what you’re saying. The important part is making sure you don’t use blaming language. Instead of saying “I feel like you’re not really listening to me” partner 1 could have been even nicer and said “It seems as though you’re distracted when we talk” The more specific you are about what is bothering you and why it’s bothering you, the better. This can be very difficult to do without using blaming language. That’s why it’s so important to do tip #2 first.
Communication Tip#2: Figure your shit out
Let’s say there’s something that’s really bothering you but you can’t quite figure out what it is. This is a horrible time to start mirroring. You’re just going to be saying a bunch of stuff you don’t totally mean. Make these conversations count. What is it exactly that bothers you and why does it bother you? How can you make this conversation about you and not your partner? Often, your partner is not doing anything wrong. They are just doing something in a way that is hurtful to you. Try to turn “I don’t like it when you do this” into “I realized when you do this thing, I start to feel bad about myself. I realized that I’m really insecure about blahblahblah and that comment/action really made me realize it. I just needed you to know that.”
Figuring your shit out:
1. What’s worth talking about
Not everything is worth talking about. Honestly, you’ll save a lot of time and trouble if you don’t bring up every single thing your partner ever does that isn’t precisely perfect in every way. I heard a great story once. It was in a book. Can’t remember what book. A couple begins cohabitation after marriage. The wife is always leaving the cupboards open. The husband is frantic about it. It’s so easy to close these. Why won’t she close the cupboards. He tries to talk to her about it but it always sounds like a personal attack. It’s so easy, you see. Just close them. Stop making me close them. See how much he’s getting worked up over it? Then he realizes: I can take a half a second and close the cupboard myself. I am now a person who closes cupboards. My wife is not good at that, and that’s okay, because I have lots of weird things I’m not good at either. We compromise. We will never fight about cupboards. Cupboards aren’t worth it. This example is so useful.
2. What do you actually want to say
If it’s something you do want to talk about because it’s important to the foundation of your relationship, figure out exactly what’s bothering you. What’s at the crux of the issue? It’s only then that you can figure out how to phrase it.
3. How are you going to phrase it
This is when you can begin to move into mirroring. Find the right language for the problem. Maybe you are unhappy, maybe you are sad, or mad, or frustrated. How is it that you can work through these negative emotions with your partner instead of against your partner?
How does this prevent infidelity?
When couples don’t talk, or when they talk too much about shit that doesn’t matter, they push themselves from their partner, creating distance. Distance and unhappiness begets opportunity. What every couple wants to feel is warm, happy, comfortable, safe, a part of a well-lubricated team. When you stop talking, you stop feeling these things. When you start talking too much about the wrong things, you stop feeling these things. Learning to properly communicate, and know what you’re communicating, and know if it’s worth communicating, is all important.
Stay tuned for part three: If you’ve properly communicated the problem, can you satisfy those unmet needs or desires? Is your unhappiness a sign that the relationship has met an end? Can you workshop together to make those needs/desires met again? (Discussion of triangular theory of love.)