Whether it’s with dear friends or a marital relationship, there’s a truism about communications: The way we communicate brings people closer, or fosters drifting apart.
• Would you pick up some milk?
• The kids’ game is at seven tonight.
• Dinner is ready.
• The car needs an oil change.
• You’re going to wear that shirt with those pants?
• Don’t wait up for me.
These statements and questions are important and understandable. They facilitate order and function in our families. But do you find that most of the interactions with your most important person fall in this category? It’s an easy pit to fall into—exchanging superficial and factual information that is devoid of intimate communication.
Many close relationships have very long trails where this is the extent of their interactions—superficial and factual. This context often describes the Just Before events—just before she decides to divorce; just before he succumbs to the temptation of an affair; just before the depression becomes debilitating. Dwelling in the superficial and factual world can be very lonely.
Years ago, Gary Smalley introduced me to the five levels of Communication in his Loving, Lasting Relationships video series. I adopted the concept as an invaluable tool, especially to help couples survive the rough spots, but it’s also important to best buddies.
Consider your habits with your partner/buddy within these five levels?
1. Clichés – the superficial exchange of niceties we learn to use even with strangers (Cold out, huh? Have a good day.)
2. Factual – the exchange of concrete information, such as listed above.
3. Opinions – exposing some of your thinking and values. Some risk is required here—others may disagree or judge you when you share opinions.
4. Feelings – sharing the myriad emotions that well up in our bodies and hearts, which are influenced by events and interactions with people who are important to us. Even more so, our emotions are the result of how we interpret information and events (e.g. the negative trap we impose with conditions: my husband didn’t notice my hair cut so he doesn’t love me; my wife doesn’t care about me because she needs time with her girlfriends; my friend doesn’t answer my phone calls immediately, so I am unimportant.)
5. Needs – communicating about something we lack. Sharing a need requires vulnerability, doesn’t it? Need states there is something important that you lack, something you are unable to attain on your own, e.g. affection, being understood, validation. A certain amount of humbleness and a great amount of openness is required to my need.
Intimacy can only be experienced when couples/dear friends communicate on the two deepest levels—sharing their Feelings and Needs—at least some of the time. This comes easier for some people, and can be very difficult for others, so finding a balance is important. What is absolutely critical to develop intimacy and that level of communication is to provide emotional safety for each other.
So, start with providing a safe environment where each person feels secure. Each person:
• Can be heard without fear of judgment, condemnation, bullying, coercion, or abandonment.
• Can be confident that what is shared will not be repeated to others (gossip) or brought up at a later time as condemnation.
• Is responsible for their own actions, choices, and emotions, and does not have other people’s actions, choices, or emotions imposed upon them.
• Is free to have their individual perspectives, values, needs, dreams, and emotions, even if they differ from their loved one.
• Interacts in a respectful manner, e.g. taking turns, listening without interruptions, speaking truth with love.
It takes some practice—this interacting on deeper levels, but the closeness…the intimacy…is worth the wobbly journey.