Alon Aviram: Better communication is the key to better relationships

Two people sitting on wall, with their legs hanging down.

Headshot of Alon Aviram  Alon Aviram

Alon Aviram (MSc Family Therapy, 2017) is a family therapist and systemic psychotherapist.


The most common issue I see as a couples therapist is difficulties in communication. How and what we communicate with loved ones depends on who we are and where we come from. It is informed by what we were taught by our families, the school system, society and culture. When conversations go well you find a common ground and you feel you are connecting to the other person. But differences in our worldview or understanding can lead to miscommunication and difficulties.

Imagine you have a deep affinity with the colour yellow. You wear yellow clothes, yellow shoes, and even yellow sunglasses. You carry a bag with you everywhere, also yellow, and in this bag is everything you learned in life (it is a heavy bag). As much as you love yellow, your partner loves blue. They have a pair of blue sunglasses, a blue bag and so on. When you both meet, the colours form a pattern, which is the pattern of your relationship. A little bit of you and a little bit of them. When the colours are balanced the pattern might be very pleasing to both of you. But sometimes you feel your life is controlled by blue, which makes you sad. And sometimes they feel as if their life are filled with yellow, which makes them tired. What can seem like a blue-heavy pattern to you can seem all too yellow to them.

Two bags, one yellow and one blue, standing next to each other.Image by Fullspot UK Ltd, CC BY-SA 3.0

This is where people get frustrated. Communicating these kinds of feelings can be a tricky task. Often we don’t even recognise what is happening ourselves. We are controlled by these feelings and emotions and can't put the finger on why.

We also need to consider problems of translation. We take for granted that our words convey exactly what we intend them to. This is a misinformed assumption. In the therapy room it is easy to see how two people interpret the same sentence in different ways.

Take the phrase ‘please put the plates in the dishwasher’ as an example. On the face of it, it seems like a rather simple sentence. The speaker might believe they are just making a polite request. But this sentence might be interpreted by someone as being told what to do. Someone else might feel they are not being trusted to know to do this on their own.

The meaning we give to sentences determines our feelings and emotions and thus our behaviour. This is a recurring cycle that creates impasses in people's relationships.

So what can we do to improve the situation?

The most important thing to do is to know yourself. I know it sounds like a new-age catch phrase, but you do need to understand what makes you angry or frustrated or sad. Take a step back to look at how you are ascribing meaning to what your partner is saying.

You then need to figure out how to phrase your response. For example: ‘When you’re asking me to put the plates in the dishwasher with an authoritative tone, it makes me feel bad.’ This will likely open a conversation on how to change the tone.

Finally, do not hold back. The worse mechanism people tend to adopt when it comes to communication is avoidance. It seems like a pretty good tool at first, but it leads to lousy consequences. When people in a relationship (especially an intimate relationship) do not communicate, they stop growing together.

It’s about finding that pattern of your colours again. Tell the other person the world is seeming a little too blue. Have a laugh about that. Most importantly communicate your thoughts and your feelings.


If you would like to share your story, why not get in touch? Email forever@kcl.ac.uk with a short bio and a summary of the story you would like to tell.


 

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