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  • Writer's pictureSiegfried Howell

The Voices in Your Head: How Assumptions Poison Relationships

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Communication is the lifeline of any relationship. How we communicate with others determines the health and longevity of our connections. Unfortunately, communication breakdowns are also among the biggest causes of relationship struggles. In this blog, I will provide my professional perspective on how to avoid four key communication pitfalls that impair relationships:

Misinterpreting words and actions

  1. Lack of open and honest communication

  2. Misunderstanding non-verbal cues

  3. Difficulty expressing feelings

Avoiding these communication traps is essential for harnessing healthy relationships that enable personal growth.

The Perils of Misinterpreting Words and Actions

It's easy to misconstrue what someone says or does, especially when we make assumptions about underlying motives and meanings without asking clarifying questions. We filter words and actions through our personal biases, past experiences, and emotional frames of reference. But our interpretations are often wrong. One study found we inaccurately understand each other in 1 out of every 5 exchanges. These misinterpretations cause resentment, mistrust, and conflict. That's why it's critical we don't jump to conclusions about a person's intent. Before reacting, pause and ask open-ended questions to better understand where the other person is coming from. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

The Cost of Not Communicating Openly and Honestly

Many relationship problems result from a lack of open, honest communication. We avoid discussing difficult topics out of fear of conflict, judgment, or loss of connection. But sweeping issues under the rug doesn't make them go away. They fester and worsen. To maintain healthy relationships, we must get comfortable engaging in difficult dialogues that address problems head-on. This requires vulnerability, courage, and emotional maturity. Create space to give and receive candid feedback without taking it personally. Adopt a learning mindset, understanding all feedback as an opportunity for growth. Suppressing our authentic thoughts and feelings only breeds resentment and disconnection. Communicate truthfully but compassionately.

Misreading Nonverbal Communication Signals

According to experts, 60-90% of communication is nonverbal - our body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and other cues. Unfortunately, we regularly misinterpret these signals, which distorts understanding. For example, if someone avoids eye contact, we may assume they're lying when in reality, they're just shy. Pay close attention to nonverbal signals, but don't automatically draw negative conclusions. Seek clarification by asking open-ended questions. Also, be mindful of your body language, as it impacts others. Nonverbal messages can express what we fail to articulate verbally. Make sure your words, tone, and behavior align.

The Challenge of Expressing Feelings

Many relationship problems result from suppressing feelings and poor emotional communication. We refrain from sharing certain emotions for fear of being perceived as weak, driving others away, or losing self-control. But unexpressed feelings don't disappear. Like steam trapped in a pressure cooker, they will eventually explode outward. Or they remain etched in our psyche. For healthy relationships, don't let fear hold your feelings hostage. Permit yourself to authentically express your emotional experience using "I feel..." statements. Identify what triggered the feelings and what you need moving forward. Approach emotional communication calmly, vulnerably, and constructively.

In summary, broken communication is at the root of most relationship troubles. Avoid pitfalls like misinterpreting words, lack of honest dialogues, misunderstanding nonverbals, and suppressing emotions. Instead, commit to truthful, thoughtful, empathic communication. Ask clarifying questions instead of making assumptions. Have courageous conversations to tackle problems. Pay close attention to nonverbal cues while ensuring your own alignment with your words. Express your authentic feelings constructively using "I feel..." statements. Though it takes work, excellent communication is the key to relationships that enrich our lives and enable personal growth. It's a rewarding investment.

Dr. Siegfried Howell

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