“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determined the quality of our lives”
– Anthony Robbins
Today’s guest post comes from Carolina, who discusses the importance of communication for relationships and our own mental health.
We all know that it’s good to talk.
We hear it so often and actually, we know communication is vital. I talk about it frequently in my work. In the context of marriages, very often one of the biggest problems couples cite when they hit a wall, is that they’ve stopped talking. People report of not feeling heard or understood or on the other side of the coin, they don’t feel able to speak about what’s going on inside.
In families, children can act out when they don’t feel heard and toddlers can have a tantrum because they simply cannot communicate how they are feeling. They don’t know what it is they are feeling and they don’t have the vocabulary to articulate it. Screaming and shouting is their only way of letting their emotions out. Those emotions that they cannot even name are so important that they need to be expressed in whatever way they can. The same can be said for many adults.
There are many reasons for not communicating.
Culture, habit and safety are just three obvious ones.
I grew up in family where feelings were not talked about. My mother drilled it into me that “people don’t want to hear about your problems or how you’re feeling. People like to be around cheerful people”. She preferred to maintain a facade that everything was ok. That domestic culture soon became a habit so not talking became my default position. Instead, I internalised everything. Speaking about my feelings is still a challenge sometimes.
And there’s safety. To open up about your feelings is make yourself vulnerable and you are risking so much. Once you’ve done that a few times and not received the response you’d hoped for, you again learn to keep quiet and be ‘strong’. It might be that the other person simply doesn’t know what to do what they’ve heard. They feel uncomfortable. It’s hard being a good listener sometimes. People may think they have to provide a solution not realising that all that’s most needed is just quiet listening and empathy. Occasionally a shoulder to cry on.
These last few weeks in lockdown have been very difficult for us, as it has been for many. We are not unique in this. I’m suffering from sciatica caused by a bulging disc which means I’ve been in pretty much constant pain for over seven weeks. My last form of exercise was a 20k marathon training run. I’ve been on a cocktail of medication and the pills I take at night makes me very groggy in the morning. Add to that, the fact that I am an introvert. I love my own space and company but suddenly find myself with the house full. My husband is now working from home and the children are here full time as well. It’s busy, it’s noisy, I’m in pain, I’ve lost my space, my quiet and my running (which is therapy to me). I can’t work or write as I am in too much pain to sit for any length of time. I feel guilty. My husband has settled into the study so I am ‘working’ in the kitchen. The kids go from adoring brotherly love to arguing and fighting in the blink of an eye, more often than not over something utterly trivial.
A week after lockdown, I developed suspected COVID-19, so we are all quarantined – me for seven days, the others for 14.
They are like caged lions; the teenager with testosterone flooding him. Thank goodness for the garden, but it’s really not much help. My physical pain means I am very limited in what I can do. I can’t sit or stand for more than about 15-20 minutes, so I lie down most of the time.
My husband picks up much of the slack. I feel more guilt. I am intensely frustrated that I can’t be the wife and mother I need and want to be. I am aware I am not fully present and I can’t really join in with whatever is going on. I feel useless as well as totally out of control. But I soldier on bravely. Except I am not being brave at all. I am hiding.
Time marches on and tempers are fraying.
No one is really talking. There’s a lot of sniping. The teenager spends most of his time on his phone or iPad. More guilt. I am too tired to fight it the whole time. There are too many arguments. I know I should be talking more and I can feel the frustration building up inside. I am not modelling healthy habits to my children. Rather, it’s a really good example of how not to do life.
Finally, on Thursday night, weeks of unspoken frustration erupt in an argument with my husband. I leave the room and I am so cross my heart is racing. I’m angry with myself at some of the things I’ve said that I won’t be able to take back. It’s just been announced that we have another three weeks of lockdown and I seriously wonder how we will get through it. I ponder on whether we will come out of this in one piece and together. Or whether this will, in fact, break us. My head is all over the place and I catastrophise. Despite my daily prayers for grace and strength, and a turnaround in my physical condition, nothing seems to change.
But then something does change.
My heart softens. I quickly go back downstairs and standing in the doorway, I apologise to my husband who is looking rather forlorn. Everything I had bottled up, kept to myself all comes flooding out. I cry, we talk, we voice our concerns and frustrations, our roles at home and so much more.
A weight is lifted off both our shoulders and my heart feels a hundred times lighter. The burden of frustration and pain is eased. I am still in pain but it doesn’t consume me. We both feel a new sense of freedom and togetherness. I feel more understood and we feel united in going forward as opposed to feeling like I’m on my own (mostly in the area of disciplining the children, limiting screen time, enforcing reading times, and all the other domestic chores they have to do like tidying their rooms, picking up their dirty clothes and endless other equally mundane tasks). I said sorry to the children and asked for their forgiveness. I explained briefly what had happened. We ‘repaired’ and moved on together.
Without communicating, without talking we would never have broken out of that stalemate. The resentments would have grown, the frustration would have continued to build even further and slowly we would have all drifted further and further apart. The atmosphere at home would have become unbearable and two young people would have suffered as a result.
Whilst I felt huge relief at the end of that evening, I lamented that I had left it so long. That I again reverted to old patterns of internalising and withdrawing. It’s too easy to get caught up with everything else that is going on; too easy to put ourselves at the bottom of the list, or to hide.
There’s a reason the adage “a problem shared is a problem halved” still stands. It really is good to talk.
Thank you to Carolina for sharing her thoughts on the importance of communication. You can find Carolina over on her blog by clicking here.
What are your thoughts on communication? Do you have any tips or advice to share about how to communicate effectively? Let me know in the comments?