Upgrading Your Relationships
There are three basic blockages to communication that I see causing pain in peoples’ lives. These are assumptions, unrealistic expectations, and shutting down. I will explain how these impair relationships with our friends, family, and lovers. I also make a few suggestions for how to overcome these obstacles.
Assumptions can be small, like thinking someone is going to call you rather than text and getting angry when the person texted you instead of calling. They can also be big like your lover thinks you want kids because he does and is very disappointed when he discovers that his assumption was incorrect. Clear communication on an ongoing basis is the easiest antidote for this.
There’s a silly old saying that says assumptions make an ass out of u and me. It sounds goofy but it’s true; when we think that other people see the world exactly as we see it, we’re begging for an argument or painful discovery.
This leads me to unrealistic expectations, which may be largely based on unmet needs from our childhood. They can also be based on biases and lack of empathy for others. If you have difficulty imagining how others feel or see the world from their perspective, that is a lack of empathy. When you can only see your side of the argument and expect the other person to see things the way you do, you have an unrealistic expectation. We all experience this to some degree. The important task we face is recognizing it when it arises and self-correcting.
Another example of unrealistic expectations is the way some people get about social media. They get very offended if someone doesn’t respond to them immediately and jump to all kinds of horrible conclusions about the other person’s intent. Sadly, this leads to ending relationships prematurely and unnecessary arguments.
This problem can be a little trickier to solve, as you can’t always see your biases and blind spots. You might not understand that something from your past is influencing your current behavior. Therefore, it can be helpful to talk to a professional psychotherapist to learn more about your unconscious mind and what factors motivate and control your behavior. This can help you release the past influences and live more happily and realistically in the present.
Another problematic way of interacting is shutting down. Sometimes people get overwhelmed by hurt, or they don’t know how to cope with something. They might lack the skills or doubt themselves in how to respond to a situation. Or, they might lose interest or decide that interacting further is not in their best interest. What does this look like? People who shut down might have a blank expression on their faces, stop talking, turn the other way, not look at the other person in the eyes or face anymore, or stop texting. Sometimes, in extreme cases, it results in never talking to the other person again.
There are many reasons for shutting down communication. It’s painful to be on the receiving end of this, and it can be painful to shut down as well. It leaves the recipient of this behavior wondering what happened. Naturally, they want closure, they want to understand what happened so that they can avoid that type of interaction in the future.
From the recipient’s perspective, there is not much you can do in this situation but ask for closure (not demand, not force but ask) and hope that the other person will have the courage and kindness to respond. If the other person’s response is no response, then that can be hard to take, but eventually, it must be accepted for you to have the freedom to move on.
If you are the person shutting down, it is important to learn how to communicate even when it’s difficult so that it doesn’t prematurely end or damage your relationships. It’s also important to be conscious of your effect on other human beings and to at least give the person some kind of answer when they ask for it. You don’t have to remain involved with other people when you don’t want to, but it is much more respectful to let a person know when you want to change or end the relationship.
These are just a few tips on how to have less pain and more joy in your relationships. If you’d like to find out more and schedule a psychotherapy session, please call me at 661-233-6771. Thank you.