It’s How You Say It: Watch Your Tone

Good communication is more than just sending a message; it involves making sure that the message you send is the message received; and that the message you receive is the message that was sent. Easier said than done.

Communication issues often come up in our most intimate relationships: between a parent and a child, siblings or between the two members of a couple. In close relationships, you depend on the other person to give you the things you most need, such as approval, attention, love, and support.

These expectations (heavily loaded with emotion), rarely get the open discussion they deserve. Unspoken expectations breed frustration. When your needs aren’t met you get disappointed and blame others with defensive accusations. Yet we could sidestep all this if we could just put our feelings into words.

Let me tell you about a couple I recently saw. The husband and wife came into my office and replayed an argument they had. They started the day in bed cuddling close and snuggling with affection. But then the husband feels his wife resisting. He snaps at her and she becomes defensive. He lets out a big sigh and gets out of bed. They spend their morning in silence.

That night the husband arrives home as his wife prepares dinner. The husband sits down at the dinner table, and his wife is at the stove.

Husband: “What’s for dinner?”
Wife: “Meatloaf.”
H: “Meatloaf again? We have meatloaf every Friday.”
W: “You like meatloaf. You’ve never refused it.”
H: “It would be nice, just once, to have something different–like a salmon steak.”
W: “I don’t like salmon. You know that.”
H: “But I do. And if you’d give yourself a chance, you might like it better than you think.”

They both talk with a particular intensity in their voice. Neither one of them knows why they got so upset or why the other made such a fuss.

The facts are just an excuse; the true argument is about their feelings. Their feelings that are implied and conveyed by the subtext of tone. These undercurrents can send strong messages that overshadow the explicit words being spoken.

I explain that the explicit conversation is about meatloaf and the routine of dinner. Yet, the real conversation implied in this passage has nothing to do with meatloaf. The underlying meaning relates to the unresolved emotional tension from that morning.

It’s important to realize that ignoring or hiding our feelings creates tension in relationships. Learning to verbalize our emotions simply and effectively might make us feel vulnerable, but it’s one of the most important steps we can make to improve our relationships.

Couple arguing photo available from Shutterstock

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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