Intimacy Is Communication

Close relationships are primarily about communication. Communicating is the content of relationships. Even casual or one-time interactions consist essentially of communication:

X: "Oops, excuse me."
Y: "No problem."

X: "That'll be ten dollars."
Y: "There you go."
X: "Thank you."

X: "Boy, this rain is terrible!"
Y: "Sure is, be careful, I'll see you later."
Such "communication" is so automatic it may seem meaningless. In response to "How are you?," should you really describe your health? Probably not -- probably the questioner only wanted to greet you and keep going, so just respond with "Fine" and go your way. Such verbal habits smooth our social pathways, and maintain acquaintanceships, even though they have no real content.

But close communications do require content. When two people are close, they confide in each other, taking turns, taking risks. Over time they trust each other. They try to communicate clearly and work hard to patch up differences when there are misunderstandings.
X: "Is anything wrong?"
Y: "Well, I need some help with something -- but it can wait, I don't want to bother you."

X: "Look, do we really have to go to your parents' for dinner tonight?"
Y: "Why, don't you feel well? Or do you have a problem with my folks?"

X: "This was fun, I had a good time."
Y: "Me, too. This was just what I needed. Listen, I have to drive into the city on Saturday, would you like to come along?"

X: "I'm so sorry for what I said, I wish I could take it back. I've been under a lot of stress lately."
Y: "But why didn't you tell me you were so angry? You never said anything before! How can we make this relationship work if you won't tell me how you feel?"
It's been said that everything we do in our interactions with close others is some form of communication: speech, silence, gestures and certainly sex. We don't just communicate in order to get close; we seek closeness in order to have close communication.

Recall that at the beginning of this course, we reviewed how people who are close to others are demonstrably happier and healthier than those who have no close others. One explanation for this is that communicating is good for us. People with partners have someone to talk to and listen to. They can say what's on their minds, talk about things that really matter, not just make polite conversation.

Healthy communication must be a two-way street: if one person does all the talking, with no clear understanding or sharing from the other, it's speechmaking, not intimacy. But even two caring people aren't always in sync. Their moods, worries and even language can be different. At such times, all their good intentions won't prevent misunderstandings and dissatisfaction.

In this lesson, we'll examine the basic processes of communication, the key elements in good communication, and pitfalls in poor communication. We'll also examine the hypothesis that males and females learn to communicate differently-sometimes so much so, that communicating across gender lines is like two people speaking different foreign languages.

Before going on, however, let's examine the beginnings of closeness. How do conversations move from friendly to intimate?

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