Recently, we have been watching the BBC mini-series Bleak House.  One theme that runs through  this, my  favorite Charles Dickens novel, is communication:   missed communications, confused communications, failure of communication at all.  To me the most poignant moment resides in the burial scene in which a husband comments "If only she had known that I loved her so very much that nothing else mattered."

My immediate response was to think, "Well, idiot, why didn't you ever tell her so?"  To me the idea that a husband and wife could be so utterly mistaken about the other's priorities and feelings for one's self shocks.  However, the historical context explains it.  Bleak House was written in 1852/3, during Victorian times when, from most literary evidence, men and women hardly spoke to one another about anything meaningful, particularly sex and feelings.

Communication may be the most important skill in life.  Parents start the process by accepting children's expressions of feelings without denying them.  In my experience, after listening to people for nearly six decades talk about their childhood and parental issues, the worst thing a parent can say to a child when the child expresses a negative emotion is "oh no you don't feel that way."  As a kid I was fond of screaming "I hate you!"  My father would look hurt and say "You're really made at me aren't you?"  Then we would talk about why I was mad and why he did what he did.  My mother and maternal grandmother on the other hand would often "correct" me about my feelings, while looking severely wounded.  "No, you don't hate me, you're just mad at me."  Notice that both my father and mother were clarifying for me the difference between "hate" and "being mad."  The main difference is that my father's method led to a discussion while my mother's method shut down communication.  When I got older, I generally said "I'm so angry with you..."  My mother would still shut down, deflecting the conversation with something along the lines "How can you say such things to me. Don't you know that hurts me."  As she got older she sometimes put her hands over her ears.  I don't know what my father would have done, since he died shortly after my 10th birthday.

My observation, over 59 years, is that unspoken conflicts fester and often develop into bigger problems.  Even more deadly are  the assumptions we make about what people will do if we tell them how we feel.   That being said, there are "better" and "worse" ways to express negative feelings about something someone else does.  According to the books I have read and the counselors I have talked to, the "best" way to express negative emotions is in terms of the way you yourself feel when someone has done something that makes you mad.

For those who have never been a caregiver for a disabled person, which is actually something akin to being the parent of an infant, that role can be demanding, overwhelming, exhausting, and often feels like one is unappreciated.   as a caregiver, my husband sometimes reaches this breaking point.  Since I was often feeling rather like warm dog poop and edgy at the same time, this led, initially, to raised voices and silly circular arguments.  Eventually, we both applied "I" language as in "I feel  unappreciated when you don't say please and thank you when you want things."  and "I feel like a burden you'd like to be rid of when you yell at me."  Then we resorted to humor to further take the stress out it.  One example, "Would you please get this lump in the bed something cold to drink -- tea, water, coffee, I don't really care."  "ooooh no!  Now I'm gonna have a waterlogged lump!" as he went to get it.

What this nation needs is a good lesson in communication.  It has descended to the level of passive-aggressive potshots, name-calling, rampant assumptions about what the other person thinks and believes, and silly accusations which frankly border (even fall over the edge into) paranoia.  The first step to communication is honesty.  Honestly listening, and honestly stating one's concerns.  Party "leadership" has fallen far short of meeting this criteria.  The spin each party puts on events, some of which appear to me to be deliberate untruths designed to sway emotional voters, has reached the point of ridiculous distortion of reality.  I find myself asking "Are they dishonest because they know that their honesty intentions, if expressed, would kill their chances of being elected?"
 


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