“You cannot ‘not’ communicate”

In the world of communication theory, this is a common adage. Simply stated, it means that no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to refrain from communicating to those around you. Since the majority of communication occurs through non-verbal cues that are transmitted both consciously and subconsciously, we are communicating weather we want to or not. Even silence is communicating something. So when couples or family members say “our problem is that we don’t communicate with one another,” they are misinformed. They are communicating a great deal. It’s more likely that they aren’t communicating very effectively, and they often don’t like the messages that are being exchanged.

As human beings, we have the ability to transmit and detect very subtle cues from one another.

It could be compared to an emotional WIFI system that each of us possess deep in our brain, sending out signals to the people in our proximity. Those people in turn have a corresponding WIFI system that automatically receives and interprets those signals. This is happening whether we want it to or not. Unfortunately, these signals are subject to a great deal of misinterpretation.

So where do these WIFI signals come from and how are they transmitted?

Well, it’s a complex process that happens faster than our conscious mind can keep up with and subtler than we can always perceive. Most of these signals are made up of different body gestures called micro-expressions; tiny movements that are almost imperceptible to the naked eye, especially if you’re not paying attention to them. They consist of small adjustments of the facial muscles, constriction or dilation of the pupils, movements of the limbs and extremities, body posture, tone of voice, breathing patterns, to name a few. Most of these signals are involuntary, and usually the person transmitting them doesn’t know that they are doing it. In addition, the person who is receiving these signals may know something is being communicated, but is seldom able to identify the source of these signals. To make matters worse, the receiver usually doesn’t have enough information to interpret these signals accurately. Thus, you get a dialogue that looks something like this:

Sarah: “Joe, it seems like you’ve been more quiet than usual. Is something wrong?”

Joe: “No, I just had a bad day and I don’t feel like talking.”

Sarah: “No need to get defensive, I’m just concerned about you and wondered if you’re ok.”

Joe: “Well, you don’t need to jump all over me about it, it’s not like I’m being a jerk to you.”

Sarah: “I’m not ‘jumping all over you’, I just asked a question. I don’t appreciate the tone you’re taking with me.”

Joe: “I don’t have a ‘tone’, I don’t know what you’re talking about; you’re getting all upset over nothing!”

The next thing you know, both Sarah and Joe find themselves locked in a battle over who’s attacking who and which of them is being overly sensitive. Both of them find themselves frustrated by the conversation. It’s a common scenario that can sometimes lead to hurt feelings, resentment and disrupted attachment between partners. What Sarah and Joe don’t notice is the role each of their respective micro-expressions are playing in the unfolding drama. There is a great deal more to this conversation than just the words they are using and the content they are conveying.

How many times have you had your partner say to you, “what was that look about?” or “what’s the matter?

I can tell something’s bothering you” and you have no idea what they are talking about? Often, these micro-expressions are communicating emotional states that you may not be aware of in the moment. Consequently, a whole assortment of miscommunication happens in a short amount of time. If left unexamined and unaddressed, these miscues can lead to some disruptive outcomes for couples.

Here at the Summit View Counseling, we can equip you to improve healthy communication between you and your partner. One aspect of our work is fostering clear, direct communication. This includes but isn’t limited to the words that you say to one another. In addition, each partner must also gain better awareness of their own emotional states and micro-expressions as well as those of their loved one. This is an essential component of healthy communication.

If you want to improve your relationship, we would be honored to work with you. If you or someone you know would benefit from any of our services, feel free to contact us. You can give us a call at (602) 824-8312