What You Say, What People Hear
Communication between partners often gets confusing, and there is a very good reason for this. Most of the time, the words we use have far less impact than the energy behind the words. Therefore, what you say is often not what the other person hears.
The energy behind a communication is determined by our INTENTION. In much of the communication between partners, there are two different intentions that can motivate any given communication: we are often either intent upon controlling the other person, or intent upon learning about ourselves and our partner. The difference in energy between these two intentions is what frequently creates the confusion in communication.
For example, in one of my phone counseling sessions with Joshua, he complained about the fact that his wife, Joan, often gets upset with him over seemingly minor issues. A recent conflict had occurred over a book she was reading. He had asked her why she was reading that particular book, and she had responded to him with irritation.
“Joshua,” I asked, “why were you asking her about the book?”
“I was just curious.”
“Go deeper,” I said. “Was there anything about the book that was threatening to you?”
“Well….yeah. It was a book about women and codependency.”
“And what was threatening to you?”
“I’m afraid of Joan pulling away from me.”
“So, which intent do you think was operating at that moment – the intent to control her or the intent to learn about yourself and her?”
“I guess to be honest, I have to say that I was wanting to control. When I think back on it, I think my tone of voice may have been blaming. Joan always tells me that she hates how much I try to control her, and I always think she is wrong about that. But I think I was trying to control her.”
“And she responded to your intent to control with irritation, which is what is happening frequently in your relationship, right?”
“Right. So what would I have said if I was open to learning?”
“It’s not so much the words as it is the energy behind the words. The energy behind the words, ‘Why are you reading that book?” is totally different when the intent is to control than when the intent is to learn. The same words can be said with a blaming, shaming edge, or with real caring and curiosity. It is your intent that determines the energy behind the words. Joan was not responding to the words themselves, but to the blaming and shaming behind the words. This is what is causing the confusion for you regarding your communication with her. The exact same words can communicate two totally different things, depending upon the intent. And the chances are that if you had not felt threatened by the book, you might not have even questioned her about why she was reading it.”
“Yes, I can see where that is probably true. Okay, I got it. I’ve been trying to control her and that is what she is responding to, not to the words I’ve been using.”
Joshua started to notice his intent. Every time Joan got irritated or distant from him, he noticed that his intent was to control. It was a big challenge to shift out of trying to control her, since he had been doing this most of his life in all his relationships, but Joshua was very motivated to change. He knew that if he didn’t, he ran the risk of losing his marriage. He started to focus on taking loving care of himself and his own feelings instead of trying to change Joan.
As Joshua became more aware of his intent, he was able to consciously shift his intent from controlling to learning about taking care of himself. As his intent shifted, the energy of his communications with Joan shifted, and their relationship greatly improved. Joshua was thrilled with the deeper understanding and intimacy that was growing between them.