A couple walk into my office and I show a colorful wall tapestry (reds, orange, greens, yellows, tans and browns), I ask them to come back the following week with a pillow to match the tapestry. The following week, they come back with different colors; one green the other red. So I ask them to bring an orange candle to match the wall art… and they come back with even different shades of orange. It is the power of perception. When we work on relationships, this basic communication pattern is the essence of the work we do. Often times, the “arguments” we have in our intimate relationships are rooted in a perception and understanding of the meaning of our partner’s words and actions.
Our lived experiences shape the meaning we give to the actions we see, the words we hear. One of my favorite examples of this is from graduate school. My teacher spoke of a couple he worked with who regularly argued over the closure (or lack of) of their gate. After repeatedly discussing this pattern of conflict, they were able to determine that the door was representative of a partner’s sense of security and that by not closing the door, the message was sent “your safety will not me.” does not matter “. It is perception. The meaning attributed to actions and the internalized beliefs associated with those actions. Some examples of these beliefs relate to experiences as a child, others developed later in our adult lives. Unraveling this rat’s nest of emotions / associations may take time but will result in healthier relationships in the present.
Zooming in on ‘talking to talking’ (metacommunication) and these perceptions help increase connection with our partner and resolve the automatic stress response during times of conflict. When we can notice our thoughts and let them float and lean towards the truth and the knowledge that our relationship is secure and loving, we have a better chance of hearing our partner’s true intention and not the perception.
Some of the exercises that we would be working on in therapy to reinforce the clarity of your communication are simple reflective listening, I am stating things that we all logically know how to do. The problem arises when our emotional reactivity stops this logic. During couples therapy, we will practice communication in a safe environment, where I can facilitate conversation. Having opportunities to practice these communication strategies in a calm manner allows neuropathies to change and conversations to be productive at home more successfully and to create space to feel connected together.
Join me as we finally answer who’s first?