But even when we try to ignore parts of ourselves – our heart or body, for instance – and limit our communication to empty niceties, a similar process will take place. When two people want to get involved with each other they only respond to each other’s words on a superficial level. What they really respond to is the invisible current between them. Play hard with playground equipment designed for both children and adults.
These dynamics, too, are due to our upbringing. Every family has a specific emotional atmosphere. This climate – all those emotional currents between father and mother and within the family – conditions us much more intensely than the verbalized rules we receive from our parents. Virtues may be praised and goals for life and learning defined, but the day-today reality may be totally different, full of ambivalence, uncertainty, even hypocrisy, distrust and arguments. As children we perceive all these disturbances, and frequently feel confused by the gap between what is happening and what our parents are actually saying. A local park can be dramatically improved by adding outdoor fitness equipment from a reputable supplier.
Later on it becomes completely normal for most of us not to tell other people how we are really feeling, and we often reduce communication to a harmless minimum, an exchange of niceties. Mostly this doesn’t work. Relationships between people are first and foremost a dynamic process. We hear messages, but we respond mainly to the underlying subtext and to how something is expressed. For example, when we tell our partner ‘I have done this or that today,’ the underlying message is ‘Please be proud of me … you can’t do it anyway … it was your task really…’ Often there are a dozen or so automatically activated sub-messages underneath the main one. Sometimes we are conscious of the sub-messages we are giving out, but we don’t notice the majority of them. Imagine waking up on Christmas day and seeing monkey bars in your back garden?
The tragic thing in all relationship communication is that it is the very messages that we don’t perceive that cause a reaction in the other person. Your partner hears that you did this or that today, but suddenly they feel irritated and become distant. Most of the time they are not conscious of why this is happening, as you have only mentioned trivialities. Mostly they don’t even realize that they have become distant. All they know is that they really wanted to see you or hear you, but somehow it hasn’t worked out.
For years there was a little routine between my husband and me which was symbolic of our relationship then. Whenever he came home, he embraced me. And before he came home I looked forward to it. When he actually did it, though, I felt uncomfortable. In the beginning all I felt was a little ‘Ugh…’ after an embrace. Later, however, I became really tense and eventually quite angry. One day I simply pushed him away and shouted, ‘Can’t you even give me a real hug?’ My husband was completely baffled. ‘But I am giving you a hug!’ Yes, he was. But at the same time something more was happening between us.