Ninth in the series
Notes on recovery
Intimacy depends on the quality of communication.
And the first step to raising that quality is by not doing stuff we normally do.
Psychologist Thomas Gordon once famously identified twelve “roadblocks to communication” between parents and children. It’s a good list to memorize, since each item is essentially a controlling behavior able to destroy intimacy between anyone and anyone else:
1. Ordering or directing
2. Warning or threatening
3. Advising or suggesting
4. Arguing or persuading
5. Lecturing or moralizing
6. Criticizing, judging or blaming
7. Agreeing or praising*
8. Ridiculing or shaming
9. Analyzing or diagnosing
10. Reassuring or sympathizing*
11. Questioning or probing
12. Withdrawing, humoring or distracting
A client with whom I shared this list responded, “What’s left? Hand signals?”
I sympathize. We’re so used to these ways of unconsciously controlling each other that it’s hard to imagine doing without them.
But there are alternatives.
I-statements, for example. Ever notice how any sentence containing the word You tends to make the listener defensive? I-statements avoid this by focusing on me instead. I’m confused by what you’re saying, instead of You make no sense. I’m mad at you, instead of You suck. Like that. Which do you think leads to better communication?
Then there’s feedback, a skill I teach in therapy groups. Group requires a lot of emotional safety, so to forestall judgments or unsolicited advice members are asked to respond to what they hear by describing only what it made them think, feel or remember. (When you talk about your anger I remember all the times I lost my temper and how it felt.) These expanded I-statements not only make it safer for everyone to talk about sensitive issues, they help members get to know each other quickly, and to understand their own reactions and perceptions reactions on a deeper level.
Finally, monologuing is an exercise I teach couples who want to learn intimate communication. Each partner takes five minutes to list his/her resentments (I resent when you insult my mother) and appreciations (I appreciate when you make coffee so I don’t have to) while the other just listens. Then they switch roles. Monologuing’s not meant to settle disputes or solve problems; it’s used to keep the air clear, lines of communication open, and each partner in touch with where the other is emotionally. It also teaches them to make I-statements, identify feelings, listen without interrupting, and develop empathy. (I didn’t know you felt that way is a common reaction.) Couples who monologue regularly tell me it becomes a way they can talk safely about almost anything.
*Yes, items 7 and 10 tend to surprise people. See here for an explanation of why they inhibit parent/child communication.