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Your Love Life-3 Levels of Communication

By Dr. Ava Cadell

Communication in a relationship is like fuel in a car. If you don't have fuel, you still have a car but it's not going anywhere. If you don't have communication, you still have a relationship but it's not going anywhere.  

What communication is:

Communication is the real, honest-to-goodness relating that leads to genuine intimacy and a healthy bond between two people.  And, good communication leads to good sex that will only get better as a couple get to know each other more deeply. Communication is probably the most important aspect of any relationship, mainly because we are forever learning new things about it and new ways to do it.  Thus, communication is an ongoing creative process that deserves our rapt attention.  Webster’s general meaning lets us know that communication is what hooks us up with each other.  Webster’s dictionary says communication means “to share in or participate.”  So you see, if we don’t communicate, we don’t get our share and we can’t give our best. Isn’t it great that communication isn’t confined to just words though?  That makes it so much more fun to explore this subject, especially when you want to have a new adventure with your partner, erotic or otherwise.  Communication is reflected in our voice tone, body movements, our speech patterns.  Communication is even conveyed by what we don’t say sometimes.

Communication can be subtle too; you don’t always have to be hit over the head with an anvil to get the point.  A partner’s raised eyebrow may be sufficient to indicate a whole range of meanings, such as surprise, contempt, glee, superiority, or annoyance. Communication is easy in some of our relationships, difficult in others.  We have all known people who are “easy to talk to,” and we all know people who are “hard to reach.”  Maybe we communicate differently with these different folks.  For instance, when I’m with an easy-to-talk-to person, I feel comfortable and tend to open up more.  And when I am talking with someone who has to be pried open like a clam, I may feel frustrated and challenged.  Some human beings have to work very hard at self- expression while others seem to have a natural gift-of-gab.  With this variety of humanity, communication can become a healthy adventure and help us open our locked-up desires. Relationships that grow, evolve, and are the most emotionally and sexually fulfilling all have this secret ingredient binding them together.  Why is communication like a secret ingredient?  Because it involves opening up all our five senses, and then some.  To utilize this secret ingredient, we must be open to what information our senses are conveying and then translate that input into words.  There’s the key word: Openness! Remember the magic words Ali Baba used in the Arabian Nights to open the door of the robbers’ den so he could get to the treasures inside?  “Open sesame.”  That fairy-tale term has become a modern buzzword for “gaining admission;” it is a secret password.  Ali Baba knew the secret of communication: be willing to use the password; be willing to “open.”  Ali Baba didn’t know all that he would find behind that door.  He didn’t even know for sure if the password would work.  But he was open.  He might just as easily have said, “This is too scary,” and walked away.  

Communication can seem scary only because it is still rather unknown turf, like undeveloped real estate.  Yet it can become exciting if we think of ourselves as communication pioneers who are cultivating an empty lot.  After all, we have plenty of tools to work with, such as writing, talking, body language, and eye contact.  And more communications tools have been invented in the last century than ever before in history.  In fact, with the invention of “email,” we can write love letters to each other many times daily, enhancing what couples did 50-to-100 years ago when mail was delivered twice a day.  So obviously we as a society want to open up and share ourselves with each other.  We want to “reach out and touch someone.” Yet, how many times a day do we hear the term “communication breakdown“?  If the fax machine, the computer, and the portable-phone battery all go out at once, we panic.  Suddenly we are shut off from communication.  Now that’s really scary; think about it.  It is better to have all the communication devices working and say-whatcha- gotta-say, than to be in the dark and not be able to connect at all.  Good communication between people is much like having all the machinery working properly.  We make contact, even if we don’t always score or if we don’t always hear what we want to hear.  Many times though, we will hear even happier input than we expected.  That is why we run the risk of opening; that is why we ultimately try to communicate. Tom is a 40-year-old singer who can croon a tune, but gets tongue-tied when he tries to verbalize his everyday thoughts.  He met a lady named Dawn, and guess what?  Not only was it the dawning of a relationship, but the light-of-dawn went on in Tom’s head too.  “We can talk!” he said to Dawn when he found the two of them could communicate effectively even if they often messed up their metaphors and mislaid information.  

We think of communication as words, but it is really how and when those words are expressed.  Timing and effectiveness are everything.  The famous cartoon characters Tom & Jerry did a feature film a few years back, in which they both talked for the first time.  This well known cat-and-mouse duo both spoke up at once after they had been chased by bad-dude alley cats; Tom & Jerry needed each other.  “You talked!” these little guys shouted in unison, marveling at the revelation that each could speak.  They’d worked together closely through 50 years of cartoons, and never really spoken.  “I didn’t know you could talk,” Tom cat said.  “Well, I didn’t have anything to say that I thought you would understand,” Jerry mouse sheepishly replied, making a circle on the sidewalk with his toe.  Once they began talking, opening up, it was definitely a turning point in their relationship.  They learned how to be buddies, even though they are still natural-born enemies. Isn’t this so true of people?  Just like these little animated critters, we can go for years misunderstanding each other’s actions until we discover we have a mouth that knows how to say what we feel inside.  When Tom & Jerry needed each other, they opened up and talked.  Their pride went out the window. Communication can also be what is not vocalized.  Such situations may or may not need words.  Bernie is a 70-year-old press agent, happily married for over 40 years.  His business thrives on communication.  A wise and gentlemanly white-haired man, Bernie likes to tell this story as he chuckles: “You know, even two strangers in an elevator have a relationship.  A man and woman get on the elevator.  They eye each other.  The guy’s checking out the gal and the gal is wondering what he’s thinking.”  So you see, communication is taking place long before we begin to verbalize what’s on our minds. How many times have we heard that cliché, “couples must communicate“?  We have heard this so much we may be numb to the valuable meaning of communication, that is, to share and to participate.  Talking, listening and understanding each other’s messages are our communications goals.  And don’t think you‘re in alien country if you haven’t mastered it yet.  Even skilled professional communicators like myself revert to tongue-tied reactions once in a while.  Recently I ran into John, the first man with whom I was ever in love.  He is a major recording star who is now happily married with a family.  I had a deep and meaningful love affair with him 20 years ago.  

When I went up to him at one of his concerts, instead of being my cool, professional self, I “lost it.”   I mean, I became a child; I turned to putty; I oohed and ahhed.  The result?  Miscommunication.  Although happy to see me, John was on guard, quick to let me know he is happily married with a son.  Did my gaga behavior convey the message that I was after him?  I wanted to tell him about my happy marriage too, and how happy I am for John’s happiness.  But I reverted to the young girl I was when I first met him.  I am a relationship counselor, I’ve written books, appeared on national radio and television, and lectured in front of hundreds of people.  I’m known as a “sexpert” for my advice to couples, but I blew it that evening when I ran into John.  I’m still learning too. What communication is not: Communication is not a one-lane highway.  It isn’t all talking, and it isn’t all listening.  Janis, a woman in her 30-somethings, was married to her life-mate for five years before they broke through a major communication blockage and began to talk in earnest, with each hearing the other.  “I would talk to Jake until I was blue in the face,” Janis said, exasperated when she felt her husband was not hearing her.  “I don’t think he understood a word I was saying.  

I was especially bothered when it concerned vital matters like our families and our finances.  He would only nod and say ‘uh-huh‘.  Then I took action.  I would give demonstrations of what I was trying to communicate, much like a sales presentation he might attend at his office.  That got his attention; he could relate to a sales pitch.  I would draw graphs and charts of our problems and the likely consequences.  Then I would act the problems out in a skit if necessary.  Sometimes I would be melodramatic and we’d both start laughing.  These mini-dramas entertained him and got to his heartstrings.  They were more real to him than my yelling words at him.  And I feel like I got through to him; I accomplished something.  Now Jake responds to what I say with comments that let me know he at least heard me.” Communication is not avoidance.  You may have heard a popular joke that goes something like this: A bored young man is complaining to a buddy about his girlfriend and he dryly comments, “She says I don’t listen to her, or something like that; I really wasn’t paying much attention.”  These words are worth a 1,000 pictures.  We could pick this scenario apart for days.  This young couple isn’t communicating.  Maybe they are afraid to become closer, or maybe they don’t know how.  It sounds like one partner is avoiding the other.  This couple may critically need counseling.  If the underlying problem doesn’t eventually surface, the relationship will take a nose-dive and submerge.  Then, sadly, this couple might never know what they missed, especially if they have many good things going for them.

Real-Life Revelation:

How to change your perception of communication.  What we really want to know is, “Am I getting across the way I intend?”  We all grew up in families that communicated in certain ways, whether effectively or not.  We are comfortable with the communication patterns we learned at home.  We often don’t think about growing beyond that point, yet it may be vital in a relationship.  In your career life, you have to keep up with modern technology to stay afloat, much less get ahead.  Our relationships should be just as important.  Don’t be afraid to learn how the other person communicates.  How did your partner’s family relate to each other, and can you glean something from their communication patters that you can add to your own “communications repertoire“? We often think we have communicated simply by conveying our message, or by falsely presuming the other person knows what we want and how to give it to us.  We may not stop to measure our communication effectiveness when a relationship reaches a stalemate.  Dave, a broadcaster by profession, was in his 30s when he got married for the first time.  He told his bride, “Remember, we must communicate about everything; that will make our marriage successful.”  A well-meaning friend of Dave’s, who had been married 15 years, gave Dave this important advice before he married.  Unfortunately, Dave only knew how to give orders; that’s all he had learned about “communication” in the household in which he grew up.  Therefore, he unwittingly bossed and bullied his wife.  Dave would even praise his wife to friends, saying, “She is so quiet; she never nags me.”  One day Dave’s wife Kyra, having bottled up rage at not “being heard” for years, announced to Dave she was leaving.  Needless to say, not much of their relationship was left by this time.  Kyra wouldn’t even consider therapy; afraid that Dave would dominate the therapy sessions as well.  She left him, saying, “I’m tired of listening to you talk.  You own the marriage and I’m just allowed to visit in it.”  Dave was sent emotionally reeling, stupefied, unable to fathom what had happened.  See how easy it is for lack-of-communication to unravel a relationship?  Dave may have been talking, but he wasn’t communicating.  No relationship has to reach this chronic “point of no return.”  If only Dave and his wife had learned how to communicate at the beginning of their marriage, instead of giving the subject lip-service.  Perhaps they were both afraid of rejection, but if only they could have gotten past that fear, they could have at least grown together for a while. Real communication actually proceeds level-by-level; it’s not an all-or-nothing one-time occurrence.  Let’s look at the three major stages of communication: Level One, Positive Communication:
This “dating game” stage of a relationship, the first few months, should keep its focus on positive communication.  Find out about each other.  Use compliments to draw each other out.  Focus on your commonalities and how they can enhance your relationship.  Talking is very important during this stage, but listening is just as vital.  Rewarding each other with positive feedback, compliments, and reassurances can set the stage for closer contact.  That is why it is complimentary to hold off a while before having sex.  Get to know what each other likes first and savor the verbal foreplay.

Level Two, Intimate Communication:

Here is the opportunity to explore the passionate power of words.  Before becoming intimate, before having sex with your partner for the first time, find out what each other likes in bed.  This is a level where both of you will feel sensitive.  If you are about to take the plunge, talk about your needs more openly.  Certainly if you were preparing a steak for your partner, you would select a good piece of meat and find out how your partner likes it cooked.  It can be difficult to talk about sex because we aren’t given courses in school on how to do it.  And most likely, our parents didn’t give us much help in this area either.  We go into relationships expecting our partners to know our needs by osmosis, and that’s rather presumptuous, isn’t it?  How can we dare expect someone else to know where to touch us if we don’t find a positive way to tell them?  In love-making, we are totally on our own; maybe that’s why it can feel so difficult to express what you want and find out your partner’s needs.  But we may fear rejection or be afraid we can’t measure up. No ironclad rules exist to fall back upon; we just have to “wing it.”  And maybe that’s a good thing if it opens us up to talk more freely.  If you were lost in a foreign city, you would certainly seek out someone you could talk to and ask directions.  You would be just as vulnerable in that situation too.  Asking for directions in love- making is just part of getting where you want to go. We aren’t just dealing with erotic needs at this level, but erotic nurturing needs.  If it feels scary to ask for erotic nurturing, first tell each other how much you respect each other and want to please each other.  Ask what each other likes in the way of sex.  Go slowly; the more time you take, the more excitement you build up and the more barriers you break down.  Tantalize your partner with the possibility you can fulfill each other’s wildest dreams and fantasies.  

Verbal foreplay is extremely important at this stage.  You might say things like, “You look so inviting lying there like that” or “I love the admiration I see in your eyes right now; it makes me want to be so closely entwined with you.”  Tell each other the little things that feel good or entice, such as “I love your bald head; it feels so slick and that’s such a turn-on to me,” or “It feels wild when you lightly finger-massage my back.” Give each other positive feedback during and after love-making.  Feel free to ask that your needs be met; express what you need by saying things like, “I need to be held close after making love,” or “I need you to stay overnight.”  And if your partner is reluctant to open up, ask, ask, ask in a gentle and loving way.  Ask what his deepest desires are and how you can meet them.  And if that first love-making session isn’t everything you want, tell each other in a positive way what turns you on and what doesn’t. Once two people have connected in an intimate way, the relationship changes course.  We all feel more vulnerable after sex has entered into the picture.  The union either grows stronger at this point, or interest in each other wanes.  If you can talk and be more open with each other, the sexual intimacy goes to a deeper level and gets better and better.  But if you emotionally distance each other, the relationship can end.  For instance, if a man ceases to call a woman after they have had sex, she may feel used and abused.  It’s better to tell her up front how you feel rather than leaving her thinking the worst of you.  And fellows, if your lady backs away after that first sexual experience, try gently drawing her out a little more.  Maybe the emotional intimacy is very strong and she may need reassurance.  The point is, you can bring each other more closely together with intimate language.

Level Three: Physical, Mental and Spiritual Communication.

This is the deepest form of communication.  At this level of your relationship, you are becoming attuned to each other’s physical needs; you have that blissful mind-to-mind connection and you feel that soul-mate resonance.  But couples often revert to Level One at this point, because they’ve made the conquest or they‘re married by this point and don’t feel a need to keep trying.  It is of extreme value at this level to keep investing in the relationship however.  It is imperative to set aside one hour of communication time each day, to keep current on each other’s needs and to know each other more deeply.  Don’t take the relationship for granted just because you have secured each other.  Continue to do spontaneous little things for the one you love, and find out if he or she likes new adventures, new interests.  One couple I know were together for five years before they discovered they both liked roller-skating.  This added a new zest to their relationship, even to the point of making love in a motel near the roller rink and pretending they were teenagers being “naughty.” You never know what surprises that one hour per day can bring you.  And it can really secure your everlasting love to you, more so than presuming everything is okay.  Your connection with each other will keep growing on all levels. Moving beyond communication.  The way to move beyond communication is through more communication.  Then we no longer fear talking to each other.  It becomes as natural as breathing.  If we have feared rejection, intimacy, inadequacy, and been able to talk about these very common problems and deal with them, then more and better communication can’t hurt.  It can only improve any situation.  Even if your partner tells you a little more than you wanted to know, that provides you with yet another topic for discussion.  Then you can clear the air and move on. To move beyond communication is to have mastered the nuances, at least to a point.  You know what basic facial expressions and body language mean, you acknowledge them, and above all you can talk about them.  Don’t always try to second-guess each other’s body-language cues; ask your partner if his or her nod means yes or no.  And, if you or your partner “clams up,” you may learn to give each other a wide berth until the time is right to talk.  And if one of you needs to talk, one of you may need to listen.  Communication is ongoing foreplay that keeps you in everlasting love.


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