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  • Writer's pictureSydney McCall Patel

Coming Back to Communication: The different styles we bring to relationship

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

by Sydney McCall Patel, Marriage and Family Therapist, Marin County, California

When we argue it can seem like we’ve been arguing forever. We forget immediately the good times, the “why” of being together. Then, when times are good, we somehow forget how upset we can get with each other. In those days, if we are in therapy, it feels like, “Ha, we don’t even need this. We’re super solid!” And then again, like clockwork, the rupture.

So often, couples are of the “opposites attract” type. One person seems to be the yin and the other the yang of the relationship. Extroverted/introverted. Energetic/contemplative. Encounter/avoidance. And the roleplayers can shift depending on the situation. We meet each other in so many ways, fitting like pieces of a puzzle; it truly is why we are choosing to share our lives in intimacy.

A very common area of different embodiment I’ve noticed in my relationship and in others is how fast or slow we respond to one another. Speaking personally, my partner and I have discussed how I am quicker than he is: quicker to process, quicker to move to another subject, quicker to interject. For me, it’s almost like a gene I’ve inherited. In my family, we all kind of talk over each other and it works. I’ve really noticed the difference between our families’ ways. My partner reflects his nature and upbringing by wanting to fully digest a topic before speaking, holding a lot of space for the other speaker and hence a strong expectation that the same space would be held for him. Together we provide for each other a window into another way, bringing cultural evolution to both of our lives, something we needed. And you can see how this might also lead to some issues.

None of this is new to us. It was evident in the first year we met. Nearly a decade later, it still trips us up and can leave us feeling so unmet, unheard, unseen. The emotional pain of living with someone under these circumstances can be consuming and threaten the vital enthusiasm that fuels our attempt to face life together. We need to always address it and yet we recognize we will likely never fix it. Slowly our work together has shifted more towards accepting the other’s ways than trying to change them. We can show our love by committing to the efforts that help — “I’ll try to not step on your words.” “I’ll try to not meet you with silence.” — but the ruptures eventually keep happening as these fundamental aspects of ourselves remain the same. The best we can do is keep the issue at the forefront of our relationship, coming back to checking in about if we are feeling met, or dropped and alone. And understanding that none of this is done intentionally to hurt the other, but that we are all proceeding the best we know how.

Most of us hold some form of trauma, big or small. It’s what causes us to have the kind of intense reactions that can surprise us. Sometimes, it is evident where it comes from and other times less so, maybe it’s too deep. We are humans filled with our mixed and often painful histories and inevitably we will rub up against our partners and their reservoirs of pain and their protective responses. But if we can remain curious about our own experience and that of our partners, then those upsetting ruptures can become opportunities for repair and stronger connection.

I love having the conversations that bring us back together. They are the kind of conversations where I might learn something new about myself or my partner. Such differences can create an ongoing healthy tension that requires our full attention and love, resulting in a more confident bond and both partners feeling like they are getting their needs met. And as a postpartum psychotherapist, I consistently see that one of the most important things for the health of babies and growing children, as well as mothers and fathers, is the state of health of the bond between the parents.

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