He Said, She Heard: Communication Meltdown within Relationship
By Tiffany Twist
It starts young, as babies. We learn communication from our parents starting with single words--mama, dada, we
add adjectives, big boy, nice kitty. And even though we learn, and speak, the same language--English, French,
German--we also learn sub-languages, languages that may differ so greatly we clog communication as if speaking to a
foreigner, or worse. With a foreigner we expect to not understand. We assume we understand with someone speaking
our own language.
It starts like this: Two households on the same street. Billy in the first house, Susie in the second house,
both are a year old. And both have a pet.
In the first house, behind four walls and a closed door, Billy sits on the rug with his little furry Buddy as
his dad exclaims daily, "damn dog, damn dog, damn dog."
In the second house, behind four walls and a closed door, every time young Susie looks at her Belle, mama says,
"cute puppy, cute puppy, cute puppy."
Now, twenty years later Billy and Susie get married. They get their first dog and have a very different
vocabulary to describe the very same dog. Hopefully Susie can stand to hear Billy call her little Ralphy, "damn
dog," and Billy can stand Susie addressing his rough, tough, best friend, "cute puppy."
Amongst relationships, we seem to always run into, "you said this," " but, I meant that." "No, you said this,
and it means such and such." "That doesn't mean such and such, I just meant such." "Impossible!" Communication
meltdown due to different sub-languages.
Some words hold more or less impact than others. We may be desensitized to certain words and we may hold deep
meaning in others. Here’s another example of a communication breakdown by a couple named Said and Heard.
He wrote the hefty check and said, "dang house payment." She stood in her gourmet kitchen and heard, "dang house
payment." Now if these two take for granted they understand each other, Said will go on with life as normal, only a
bit irritated as he'd like to take a vacation instead of spending the necessary money on a mortgage payment. And
Heard, not knowing this was about a vacation, assumes it's about the fact she chose such a large house. Heard will
walk around with bitterness, worry, and other such emotions which will effect her state of being. Said will wonder
what her problem is and if days have passed Said won't understand what Heard is mad about.
They will then fight about minor things that have transpired over these few days, how he wiped his brow and
sighed after cutting the large lawn, and she shakes her head and says, "you really hate it here don't you?"
Said asks, "What are you talking about? I don't hate it here." Heard won't believe it, they will fight, and have
a hard time tracing it back to the original comment. Or if they do, Said will say, "that was so last week," when
yes, it was last week, but now the single comment of "dang house payment" has magnetically caught little shavings
of lead--the wipe of a brow, the sigh--all week, and this one comment grows heavier and heavier until "dang house
payment" is just too heavy for Heard to bear. This could easily be solved by communicating the emotion a word or
phrase causes the moment it is heard or said. Heard should have looked up in her gourmet kitchen, and said, "What
does dang house payment mean? What are you saying?" Said would reply, "I can use a vacation, but we need somewhere
to live, don’t we?" Heard nods with a smile.
The word "pathetic" doesn't carry much weight for me, it is a nice word I would maybe use to describe myself if
I were to lay around on the couch all day and do nothing, yet if I were to use this very same word to describe
myself when speaking to a certain friend of mine she would assume I was suicidal and consider calling the police to
rescue me. This word carries much more meaning with her.
If my boyfriend were to tell me I'm mentally unstable without telling me he's just referring to my PMS state at
the moment, I may assume he thinks I belong in an insanity ward somewhere, locked up forever. And we will fight.
The words "mentally unstable" carry a heavier meaning for me.
How important it is to communicate as well as analyze our sub communication. Tell each other, because you said
this, I feel that. Ask each other, was what you said intended to make me feel this? Could I take your such and such
to mean such? And if the answer is no, believe it, understand, and explain it, so the next time won't be so bad.
You'll grow to understand each other along with each others speaking styles and a sweet little communicating river
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