Communication in a partnership is very complex.
The psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun explained this topic quite well in his German book “Miteinander Reden” (“Talking Together”).
If you say something to your partner, e.g. “I’m going home now”, then this message has 4 different informations.
1. The factual information: What do I inform you about?
I inform you that I’m on my way home now.
Unfortunately, that’s not all. Between me and you there is some other information, and it can make life really hard for us.
2. Self-revelation: What I reveal about myself
Well, first of all: I can go, and I have a home. But much more: Maybe I don’t feel like meeting you anymore. Maybe it’s late and I’m tired and I have to go to bed. Maybe I still have work to do and I have to do it now.
So, I’m gonna give you some of me. Consciously or unconsciously. After all, I show something of myself when I talk. I would like to give an information, but I always give a picture of myself.
If I go home too early, it could show I’m a spoilsport. Or have no propulsion. Or that the one at home can decide about me and my time. Or, or, or.
So I’m revealing myself.
We now had firstly the message of fact and now the revelation of ourselves.
Okay, now we come to the third point: the relationship we have with each other.
3. The Relationship: What I think of you and how we stand together
Now your counterpart comes into play more. In your message “I’m going home now” you will say a lot of things that directly concern your partner:
Like your tone of voice or your facial expression.
You probably know exactly how to say “I’m going home now” in such a way that a deep regret appears. The tone then tells the receiver: ‘I think it’s totally stupid, but I have to go now, unfortunately. Actually, I’d rather stay with you.‘
But you can also speak in a way that your partner thinks: “Oh man, he or she wants to disappear fast. Have I done something wrong? Or maybe the other one doesn’t like me anymore?”
4. And finally the appeal: What I want you to do
Most of the things we say are meant to make a difference. When you tell your partner I love you, then you’d like your partner to say the same thing to you, wouldn’t you?
And what’s the appeal when you say “I’m going home now”? Do you want your partner to stop you? Or do you want him to go with you? Or should he leave you alone?
So, we had four messages in a single statement:
The factual message itself, then the self-revelation, then the relationship and finally the appeal.
You see, a very simple sentence always has many levels. And now it’s getting really complicated. Because your partner also has all 4 levels when he hears your message.
I.e. he also has 4 different “ears”.
1. The Factual-Ear
Many people receive a message only as a fact message. Especially men and academics.
As already mentioned in the example: if a woman is standing in front of a mirror and says: “Oh man, I’m just too fat”, then the man really shouldn’t react as if it were a message in kind. “Yeah, so you’ve put on weight? Now, over the winter, that can happen fast!”
Oh, my gosh!
The two talk completely past each other and we have a relationship crisis.
2. The Relationship-Ear
Often we hear the messages with the relationship ear. That is, no matter what the partner says, we think he wants to make clear to us something about our relationship.
For example, one partner says, “Well, marriage isn’t really mine!”
Then the one with the relationship ear hears: “He doesn’t want to marry me, it’s up to me, in principle he might marry, but not me!
3. The Self Revealing-Ear
When the partner comes home totally tired and annoyed and first complains about the disorder, it probably doesn’t mean: It’s so terribly messy here. – That would be the factual information, by the way.
And he probably doesn’t want to say that the partner who is already at home is basically a bad person – that would be the relationship level.
Most likely, he wants to say, “I’m sick, I’m knocked out and tired. It’s best if I lie down briefly, then I’ll be fit again in 10 minutes and ready to use.” This is then a self-revealing, when we hear it this way, we hear with the self-revealing ear.
4. The Appeal-Ear
There are people who always hear everything as an appeal. When the partner at breakfast says: “Is there still coffee in the pot?” then he jumps up with the appeal ear and says: “I’ll make some again right away!” The person with the ear of an appeal always thinks of others and is completely neglected himself. The partner also doesn’t necessarily like this, he has to watch what he says, because everything is seen as an appeal.
(For more information see Friedemann Schulz von Thun: Miteinander Reden or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four-sides_model)
As you can see, communication isn’t that easy.
Try checking yourself out: Are you someone who always sees everything as a factual information and therefore often behaves like an elephant in a china shop?
Or do you listen to everything on the relationship ear. Does it not matter what your partner says, are you always in danger of feeling hurt or criticized?
Or are you looking behind the things your partner says and wondering what’s really going on, even there is nothing?
Or do you always try to create a pleasant environment for everyone else and often forget yourself?
Sometimes you’d think it’d be better if we didn’t talk at all. But that’s really wrong. Ultimately, everything is a question of communication.
No matter what it’s like with you and your partner right now: Talk about everything.
And try to understand the other as he meant it.
A good way is to ask. “Have I understood you correctly, you still want coffee?”
Of course, that’s not always possible.
One basic rule can be remembered: When a partner says he’s become too fat, he wants encouragement from you. Always.
How about encouragement basically with you?
Are you encouraging your partner? And does he encourage you?
Get used to telling your partner you love him every day. And tell him what you love about him. Sometimes leave a note, or send a postcard, write with lipstick on the bathroom mirror what is so special about your partner for you.
Speak, speak, speak
You need to speak. And speak. And speak together. And be patient with each other. Especially in the first weeks, months and even the first years of the relationship your communication can quickly behave like 2 ships at night: You’re talking completely at cross purposes. Take a look at the blog with the discussion suggestions. Talk to each other.
Discussions and Disputes
And even if you argue, it doesn’t matter. It only shows that you both feel secure enough in your partnership to express your own opinions. Only remember: Do not become unfair, do not become impudent and hurtful to each other, never become physically aggressive, let the other talk and … and reconcile yourself in any case again, forgive each other!
Oh yes: Very important: Please do not think the following: “If my partner really loves me, then he also knows what I feel or how I feel or what I think at the moment.”
NO! Your partner DOESN‘T know that. No matter how much he loves you, he has no chance to look into your head or heart. Say what’s on your mind. Speak your mind. Nobody can know what is going on in the complicated brain of an individual: Nobody! Not your partner, either. Give him a chance to understand you! He wants to understand you!
Communication is something wonderful. And nowhere is communication more fun than in a partnership. But it’s also a bit of work. But it’s worth it.
Have fun with it!