Relationships can be tough. Building a “context” of what your mate is really saying significantly increases emotional intimacy and closeness between the two of you. And equally important, building a context significantly lessens the disagreements couples have. We don’t always exactly mean what we say in our conversation. We open our mouth and some sentences come out. But we don’t always thoroughly think through what we are saying. Sound familiar?
That’s often how arguments begin. We misunderstand the context or meaning of what the other person is trying to say. And then the downward cycling is well on its way! By building a context of the other person, and vice versa, you are increasing the chances of having fewer arguments. You will feel closer to one another, and a much easier flow in your relationship.
Let’s talk about how this happens and more details about the benefits.
1. Avoid Negative Misunderstandings
How often do we misunderstand what the person really meant with a positive slant? We don’t. For example, John says “ I’m tired of us fighting all the time”. You immediately assume he wants to end the relationship. But he likely means that he doesn’t want to feel disconnected from you. He doesn’t say that because he would likely feel too vulnerable and exposed. What if your response showed him you didn’t really care about being disconnected? That would really suck for him. So, by building a better understanding of what he often means you will be avoiding the significant chance of misunderstanding what he really is trying to say. It may be that he may not know how to express what he truly wants to say.
2. Context Lessens Disconnections
A disconnection (when someone feels upset) can be an occasional “blip” on a screen or a feeling that you are constantly hitting an emotional pothole. We are not always going to be in sync with what each other is really saying. So, by increasing your general understanding of the other person and how they communicate, you are less likely to have the conversation go downhill. Or if it does, it will be much easier to reconnect, because you would be building a better “context” of one another once the person thinks about how they know the other person to really be, and what their heart is really about.
3. Helps Determine What He is Really Saying
Communication will feel easier as you build this new context of one another. You won’t hesitate or shy away from asking those tough questions, like, “why were you so upset with me?” This is because each of you will be creating an understanding of how you feel towards the other person from your heart. So, when you two might be at “odds” over a particular subject, you will feel more emotionally safe in saying what you want to say because of the understanding, or “context” that you are building.
4. Avoid Arguments More Easily
Because of the new “context”, you each will be building, you will “choose” to avoid the “potholes” rather than to argue. You will choose to understand the other person, rather than to stubbornly walk forward into a pothole you both will later regret. As you build a better “context” of each other, you will see the positive benefits that occur when you understand one another more accurately. You will each know and understand all of the good things you both really want in the relationship, and how disappointed you feel after an argument.
5. Willing To Give Each Other “Space”
Often during a fight, one partner wants to resolve the issue in order to feel better and to avoid worrying about the relationship. The other person, however, often wants to get away from their mate in order to stop the argument because it is so uncomfortable. Or, sometimes it is because one person is afraid what they might say will really hurt the other person, and they don’t want to do that.
At these times, when the “context” of the other person and the relationship status is more accurately understood, it becomes easier to give someone some time to cool off. It can feel less threatening to do so because communication is often more positive and productive in general. So, no one ends up feeling that the relationship is threatened by taking a time out to cool off, or to think about what they really want the other person to understand.
6. Building Context Increases Trust
Once you have built the context of one another, only one party at a time needs to practice the behaviors listed above, even when the other person currently cannot do this. By not responding in an equally negative and hurtful manner, you will be building trust in the other person’s eyes. Eventually, the other person will see, through his new context of you, that you are not out “to get him”, control, or criticize him.
Also, he will eventually begin to see that you no longer respond to him in a negative way. Rather, you are responding to him in a productive way. You will be helping him to understand what you are really trying to say and that you are not out to make him feel bad about himself, It will also show that you are not trying to judge him in a negative manner. This behavior is healthy in a relationship and absolutely builds trust over time. Of course, you need both parties to take their turn in this trust-building.
7. Best Part: Emotional Closeness and Intimacy!
So Reap the benefits! You’ve earned it! Now that he has learned how to understand you more accurately, and you understand him, you both can begin to come forward more easily and more often. As he feels emotionally safer with you he can come closer.
Men often have more difficulty with this context building. If he doesn’t know how to do this, show him by modeling the things we’ve talked about so far: not judging, controlling or criticizing him. Focus instead, on how you are feeling. For example, Instead of saying in anger “you always do this!”, you can say “I really don’t want us to be disconnected. I want us to feel closer to each other. What can I do to help you feel the same way?” Someone has to be brave and take the risk in coming forward in a non-conflictual way. It might as well be you. Be the stronger person (but do not throw this in his face). Instead, model healthy communication for him. Let him see that you really want to feel closer to him emotionally and that you really value the relationship.
Relationships are tough, vulnerable, confusing, and amazing. This is especially true when it is with someone who wants to invest in the relationship and is willing to put the work in and to “show up”. Remember, it takes time to first learn a new skill, then to practice it, before it can become more natural for you. Give it time.
Also, remember you are going to feel vulnerable, especially at first, when you are trying to build a new understanding or context between the two of you. Emotionally healthy and strong relationships are well-worth all of the work!
Susan Saint-Welch, LMFT is a licensed marriage, individual and family psychotherapist practicing in Southern California. She has been published on MSN.com through yourtango.com. She is available in-person in Manhattan Beach and online anywhere in California. Also, watch for her announcements about her coaching that will be available online everywhere soon!