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Does familiarity really breed contempt or do we just get lazy with our communication?

Of course, when you’re getting to know someone you really like, you pay special attention to each other and to what you do together. You go out of your way to please, perhaps you even take time out of other things that you normally do.

But it's so easy to let communication slip, which can lead to all sorts of trouble! Here is some advice to hopefully help.

(Applies to all familiar relationships - friendships as well as to relationships, and also to family members.)

Then you get to a stage where you feel you know each other pretty well and you start to relax, and catch up with yourself a bit. That’s fine and it works really well a lot of the time, especially if you aren’t living in each other’s pockets. But even then it can sometimes start to appear to the other that you are taking them for granted …..

.... for example if you are paying particular attention to another new friend and expecting your longer term friend to understand that this is just because you are making the effort to be inclusive, rather than meaning to exclude them. You tend to expect them just to know that they are safe in their established role as a friend or partner, and join in accordingly. But they night not feel that confident in certain situations, and you still need to pay enough attention to realise if they need encouragement or reassurance, or they might start to feel as if you are making a special effort for everyone else except them.

Children might feel similarly that their mother is being especially nice to other children, and just mean or strict with them. I think we do tend to expect those closest to us to know that they are always the most special to us, but we should realise that they might not always be confident of this, especially if you are suddenly being less attentive than you used to be.

When you have been around someone a long time you also tend to act as if you think they should know how you feel about everything, but no matter how much in tune you may be, there is lots of room for misunderstanding, particularly if their awareness is hampered due to them being tired or unwell, or preoccupied with an issue or task, or if you simply didn’t explain things properly. Quite often you may well be in tune enough to know what the other is feeling, or thinking, or talking about, but we should not take this for granted and get frustrated with them if we have not been clear enough about what we mean.

It can only take a very small lapse in communication to create a huge misunderstanding – for example if your wife is talking about one thing and you start talking about another thing without specifying what, she may well assume you are discussing her topic and not realise that a new one has been introduced. Then later you might be surprised to find that she is adamant that you said something you know you didn’t, or that she did not respond to something you thought you’d specifically mentioned.

Things can easily be misheard too, in the noise of offloading a van for example, she might have asked you “Should we leave these?” and you replied “Yes” because you thought she asked “Do we need these?” only to find that she has now left them behind. Try not to be too annoyed, just try next time to be more specific…. For example she could have said “Should we leave the box and the tape in the van?” or you could have said “Yes, I want everything upstairs, then at least she would have realised that you had misheard her first question.

When we are busy, too often we are doing things at the same time as talking, so you can’t always hear if someone is walking away from you for example. It is useful to stop and do a checklist with each other at some point – “have we got everything now?” for example – and go through the list. Try to leave time for such checks as they often save a lot of time and/or trouble in the long run.

Couples obviously tend to be around each other quite a lot, and even though you have chosen this situation, it can certainly be quite challenging to remain amicable.

Humour helps, but it has to be real humour for both parties, the kind of stuff that lets things wash off, not a humour that masks bitterness or pain, as can sometimes be the case.

You do need breaks from each other, time with other friends, time to pursue personal interests, and lots of trust to allow each other the freedom to do their own thing. Ideally you want to support the other in doing what they want to do, in being themselves, but that doesn’t necessarily mean tagging along! Often people try to cling or control, or just butt in when perhaps they shouldn’t.

Something else to watch out for here, is that things should work both ways, each should be given roughly equal support and leeway. A girl shouldn’t expect to go off with her mates and then complain when it is her fellow’s turn. A wife shouldn’t end up feeling that she gives way more support to her husband than she gets in return, or that he sees her as providing a certain role.

If things do get out of balance we need to remind ourselves that we are responsible for making our own choices, so if we don’t speak up about it then we can’t complain if things don’t change…. We need to take the initiative to discuss it and ask for more help for example, or say that you will be doing less as you need the time to get on with some of your own stuff, for example, or that you need more rest. Everyone has a right to ask for consideration.

I am not saying we all have to do things equally, obviously it often makes sense for one to do more of what one is best at, or to do more of one thing for example so that the other can get on with something they have a special skill for – it’s like a trade off – if I do the cooking and the dishes, you do the DIY. But these things should be discussed and agreed on, not taken for granted. Someone may prefer to get practice at doing something rather than just not be given the chance, for example.

If one is earning more income from going out to work then it makes sense for the other to do more at home, and it may swing the other way next time. One person’s career should not be seen to be more important than the other’s unless you both agree that this is the case, each should be allowed the time to devote to this, and anything in your life that helps create a sense of personal fulfilment. Sometimes we might agree that one has priority for example if they earn a lot more for their time, but careers are not just about money, they are also about self worth and validation, and helping others out too, so this all needs to be taken into account.

Obviously finances can be a tricky area – but if we are working as a team, then it is a team effort really too, so if the man earns a lot more perhaps he will agree that it makes sense for him to cover more of the costs, but that she will do more of the home chores for example – or if we are both earning then when we go out we should each pay a share. A woman should not just expect the bloke to pay!

Fights for rights have been no bad thing but sometimes they have pushed us too far the other way, or confused us a bit – women who tend to want to be everything can end up stressing themselves out trying to prove that they can, when often it is better to make some logical choices.

These are all things we need to discuss in detail with our partners as we all have our personal views and needs. It is not a woman’s fault if society still tends to deem that she earn less.

By the way, I think that it is good to involve children to some degree in discussions that involve who does what or how the bills get paid. I don’t think we need go into a lot of detail, but I don’t think we should shield them from reality – or they will get a fright later on when they are suddenly faced with everything at once.

I also think that is much better for them to understand how decisions are made, otherwise they might make dreadful assumptions – for example thinking that one parent is treated badly by the other when that isn’t actually the case as you have agreed to do things a certain way for certain reasons that seem good and obvious to you, but that they might never have thought of. They might think that a parent is a failure because they left a job for example if it isn’t explained that this was a choice that was made on purpose and why. They might think that one parent is ‘bad’ and the other ‘good’ simply because they know about some things and not about others. Later when they find out that there was actually more of a balance than they thought, they can then end up feeling guilty for having judged in the first place – even though they could not have known any better. [Hopefully though, we learn to let things go as we mature – there just isn’t anything good about holding onto resentment or guilt. Hopefully our young people will eventually realise that being parents is a huge learning curve!]

Couples should ideally be friends as well as partners, and so have the potential to make a very good team, or functional unit – and so focus on communicating properly with each other from this point of view as well as on the more personal and intimate levels. Relationships based just on physical attraction can be pretty emotionally explosive, but then so can any relationship if we let things slip. Good communication is essential, otherwise how can you work anything out together?

I think no matter how good we might think we are at getting along, we always need to be careful, keep reviewing things, make sure we are treating each other with fairness, respect, and kindness.

Sometimes it’s a good thing to remind ourselves when we feel tempted to criticize, that we also do silly things. “Do not judge lest ye be judged” is always a good quote to bear in mind.

Couples and friends need to be tolerant of each other – not expect too much – we are all human, with human foibles, idiosyncrasies, and imperfections. We all get tired and tetchy sometimes, or forgetful, or locked into something we are focused on. Don’t expect your partner or friend to always be attentive and tuned into your needs, take the responsibility to stand up for yourself if you think there is something they are forgetting, but try to do it at an appropriate time, when they are likely to be able to listen properly. There is no need to be upset or take it personally, just remind them, or just do what needs doing if they are really too busy, and hope that they do the same for you when you forget something.

There is nothing even to forgive, we are all innocent, bumbling along, having a try at life and love, and mistakes are bound to be made. [Obviously this is very different from someone deliberately deceiving - all we need is to be honest with each other, and love will keep us wanting to go on trying.]

Yes, when you are really close up to someone you tend to notice all their ‘faults’ – but are they really faults? We all have them – they are just the way we are – yes we can all learn to improve our ways, but we are all on the way all the time, we never become perfect, except in the sense of being perfectly human, warts and all.

Other mis-communications are omitting to explain something, for example, “I can’t do that job yet because I need the builder to finish the trimming before I can know the right measurements” will stop her wondering why he won’t get on with it. However, she also needs to remember that she shouldn’t expect him to get on with it, as he is bound to have his reasons. We also shouldn’t expect people to do things perfectly – they will simply do as they can. No one can do everything perfectly, and sometimes they may not be feeling well, or might be in a rush to get on to something else. Our priorities are different, so it can be good to explain for example “I’m going to have to make the dinner a bit later as I really need to finish this first”, or we could ask “Would you mind making dinner tonight as I’m really busy with……” and not just expect them to work it out for themselves.

There is no good reason to start feeling contempt and disrespect for our nearest and dearest – if you love them, just accept them for who they are, and hope that they do the same for you.

Try to accentuate the positive, giving praise as often as you can. We are all like children really, responding well if we are praised, and inclined to give up if we are knocked down too much.

Be nice to each other, nurture what you have, appreciate it.

Don’t be lazy, don’t let it drift, as that is when you do get into trouble.

Keep being clear about the specialness, or risk losing it.

Keep being clear about how you communicate and express how you feel, so that you can keep on working things out together.

If you get lazy about communication this can start to cause huge problems and a build up of resentment. Don’t sit back and let poisons seep in, keep on top of things.

Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself when needed. Be true to yourself and step up to the mark for the good of the team.

Love and trust and mutual respect are the gifts we have – don’t chuck them away, make the effort to keep things going as well as they possibly can.

Other Communication Points:

· Listening – ask to be listened to when you have something important you want to communicate – don’t just spit it out when the other is in the middle of something – ensure you have their attention.· If you are not sure you are getting things across, ask for feedback such as “Can you see why I need to do it this way?” or “Can you understand how I feel / why I reacted that way / made that decision / needed some time with my mate / wanted to go windsurfing by myself for a change…?” etc.· If you are still not getting things across, try explaining in a different way, perhaps making comparisons to similar situations, perhaps turning it around as if your partner or friend were in your place.· If it is difficult for you to get your point across, you might like to ask to be listened to without interruption for a while so that you can find the right words for example, but try to balance that by saying “of course, once I have made my attempt, I will be very happy to listen to your point of view and take that into consideration / hear what you think / feel about it.· If speaking is difficult, try writing things down, at least at first. It will also give you time to allow any anger etc to dissipate, and you will see things more clearly.. Try to stick to just one or two of the most important points, don't chuck in all sorts of other grudges.· Try to remember that your friends don’t usually mean to criticise you – if they put forward an opinion they are probably trying to be helpful – so don’t take it as a personal sleight, try to see things from their point of view and maybe admit that they might have a point. If something seems hurtful, try to use your common sense to remind yourself that they would be unlikely to set out to hurt you on purpose, so asking for further clarification would be a good move – much better than reacting hotly! You might even say “I know you wouldn’t want to hurt me, so I must be misreading this a bit, could you try to clarify what you mean?” On the other hand, if someone really does mean to be hurtful then try to understand why – it may be because they are already hurting themselves. Maybe they feel that you just said or did something hurtful to them, or maybe they feel you’ve let them down somehow, or maybe they are just upset about something else. You could ask “Ooh, that feels really hurtful, have I done something to upset you / are you okay?” – and try to give them time to talk if you think they are going to open up – or offer it later if they don’t seem ready just then.· Don’t forget your sense of humour! Every so often we need to have a good laugh at ourselves – “Do you remember that time we misunderstood each other and I went off in a stupid huff – ha-ha-ha – let’s not do that again in a hurry – let’s talk – always try to sort things out rather than be miserable, try to lighten up and not over-react..”· Don’t ever feel like you don’t have a right to say what you need to say – we all have a right – and we can all learn from each other – everyone is a teacher in their own way.· Also try to remember that the best way to teach is to show rather than to tell – be an example of how you would like others to treat you. So treat your loved ones well, but if they just seem to then take advantage of you, you will need to point this out – don’t let them ‘walk all over you’, as that builds up disrespect. Being nice needs to not be overdone either – it isn’t good to ‘spoil’ someone, that’s why it is called ‘spoiling’ them….. it teaches them to expect things from / of you, rather than to appreciate, or to learn how to do things for themselves, so it is actually ultimately unkind.· Fear holds many of us back, from speaking out, from making our points. We need to try to remind ourselves that there really should be nothing to fear from our nearest and dearest. Even if they don’t agree with what we are saying, they should still respect our point of view. In fact no one should speak down to another – we all have our place in this world, with our particular unique personality, views, and skills. Your nearest and dearest should obviously have your best interests at heart, so would probably be mortified if they realised you were suffering in silence, so the sooner you manage to share what you feel the better.· Often it is possible to start a communication by first saying something positive to reassure the other person that you are not out to attack them…. For example you might be able to say something like “I really love the way we go out a lot together, but do you think that you could try to bear in mind that sometimes I am very tired from work and try to make some compromise about what time we leave?” You could also add maybe “If there is something you want to stay out really late for when I need to get up early the next morning, maybe you could go on your own. I know I tend to go as I drink less and so can drive home, but perhaps on this occasion, you could drink less, or get a taxi?”

So, if we pay attention to our communication, hopefully contempt will not arise, and we will be able to enjoy our familiar relationships as a continual blessing instead.

It can be a good idea to regularly do a little reality check to remind ourselves of this.

About the author

Julia Woodman
Well-being Consultant, Coach

A nutritional therapist, life coach, counsellor, stress consultant, & writer. Julia helps you heal & resolve any issues, cope with change, or achieve goals. Inc nutrition, meditation, relationships, communication, empowerment, creativity.

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