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Stop Calling It A Communication Problem.

Ken Blackman
Jan 18 · 3 min read

If you’re adults and speak the same language fluently, “communication” isn’t the problem—it’s only an issue because you’ve made it one.

Here are some examples of what people mislabel “communication problems”:

1. Being evasive — lying, avoiding, omitting; basically anything other than being honest, candid, transparent and forthcoming.

2. Being manipulative — saying what you think will get the other person to do what you want.

3. Being vindictive — spiteful, vengeful, deliberately hurtful.

4. Not understanding or feeling your own emotions (“Emotional Intelligence”) —your words and your emotions don’t match.

5. Extortion — withholding something your partner wants, or threatening something they don’t want, to get what you want.

6. Projection — your presumptions about the other person are too loud in your head to see and hear the truth about them.

7. Legitimate misunderstandings — things you honestly don’t know or don’t get about each other, often as a result of the above.

The list could go on, but the point is that identifying the behavior gets you a heck of a lot closer to changing the patterns that are sabotaging the relationship. “Communication problems” doesn’t move things forward in any useful or actionable way.

But it’s worse than that. By suggesting some kind of innocuous technical issue that might be addressed with, say, Google Translate, or improving one’s vocabulary, you’re obscuring the fact that the refusal to communicate is often deliberate. Just take a look at that list again.

This is one of those uncomfortable truths that can sting to have to face! And it’s tempting to just say “We’re having communication problems” to avoid the discomfort of what’s really going on.

Mind you, the goal here isn’t to label, demonize, find fault, or punish. People have motives for not communicating. For example, someone might be evasive because they’re wracked with shame. Or guilt. Or fear.

Even someone’s manipulative or spiteful behavior has an origin story to it. People don’t resort to ill-adapted coping strategies for no reason.

And all of this, too, is worth communicating about. If you want to change a behavior, it helps to understand the purpose it was meant to serve.

If you know your partner becomes evasive when fear comes up, you’re a step closer to knowing how to address it.

If you know you develop a sharp tongue when you get hurt or feel threatened, you’re a step closer to learning to handle the situation in other ways.

See, now you’re actually getting somewhere! But first you had to leave the nebulous comfort zone of “communication problems.”

Copyright © 2019–2020 by Ken Blackman. All rights reserved.

About the author:

Ken’s passion topic these days is how women’s empowerment intersects with intimate coupledom. A former Apple software engineer turned international sex and intimacy educator turned relationship coach, Ken is in his 20th year helping couples co-create, bond, have great sex, thrive, and live happily ever after. His work has garnered mentions in Business Insider, Playboy, Cosmo, Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour series and elsewhere. Find out more at kenblackman.com.

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