Communication Breakdown

November 30, 2015
8 min. read

My fiancée and I were cleaning our apartment to get ready for the arrival of her family the next day. There was one daunting task I was avoiding: the air conditioner. When I'd moved to New York City, I'd discovered that having Central Air is a luxury--as well as having a dishwasher, laundry machines, and pretty much anything you can think of that is standard when  living in the suburbs. The air conditioner I'd purchased was a stand-alone portable unit with wheels. It was convenient but also a bitch to install and uninstall. We decided to put it away in order to gain floor space--because that's also a luxury. 

As I was removing the pieces connected to the window, my fiancée offered to help. She asked how to remove the last remaining pipe from a plastic connection piece, and as I stumbled through my vague instructions, she was quickly confused. While she fumbled with disconnecting the piece, I increasingly felt my impatience rising. When I repeated my ambiguous instructions again, this time with less patience, my fiancée replied with, "Babe, you're not really giving me clear directions. How can I help you if you don't give me proper instructions on how to uninstall it?" That moment made me take a step back. She was right; I wasn't even giving her a chance, and my frustration was causing a lack of communication. I took a mental breath, told myself to calm down and slowly began explaining again--this time with more detail. She ended up disconnecting it in no time.

This fleeting moment was a humble reminder about the value of communication. Why is communication the first thing to be sacrificed when we experience frustration? Is it because we feel a loss of control? Are we afraid of vulnerability? I was raised in a household where verbal expression was scarce. Whenever a heated argument took place between family members, it was always left unresolved. We would sleep on it, wake up the next day and pretend that it had never happened; there was never a post-discussion. As I grew older, communication became a vulnerability issue for me, and silence was often used in an attempt to protect myself emotionally. Silence is easy to apply because it takes no effort and gives you an excuse to avoid the situation. For the longest time, it was a running theme in most of my relationships, and all of them suffered because of it. Apologies were especially difficult for me. It was like revealing a wound and saying to the other person, "Here I am! Now where's your salt?" I held a deep fear of making apologies because there were no guarantees of a positive response--or of any response, for that matter. So, rather than take the risk of feeling defenseless, I would opt for safety instead: my silence. 

It took many years of failed relationships and painful experiences for me to unlearn my silence and fully embrace the action of expressing my feelings. The emotional benefits I've gained from finding my voice have been life-changing and this has taught me to conduct healthier professional and personal relationships. There are still times when I catch myself falling back into old habits and I have to make a conscious effort to speak up when there is something important I want to address. There is always room for improvement, however, with time and much practice I've eliminated most of my non-communicative tendencies and it has only improved my interaction with others.

I apologized to my fiancée later that evening for my lack of communication and impatience with her. She looked at me like I had three heads and said, "You are the last person I would consider to be impatient and lacking in communication." Ha! If only she'd experienced what I was like during my silent period, she'd probably run for the hills. Thankfully, that side of me has been retired.

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