Sometimes it can be really helpful to think about what “level” or “depth” your relationship discussions are at in order to avoid confusion and have the kind of connection your want. We tend to talk about three levels or types of conversation
- The first level is the most simple, straightforward kind of talk – where the focus is on the topic, is often called the CONTENT level. For example, we are having a discussion about whether we should try and take a vacation this winter OR how strict we need to be about our child’s bedtime. A useful way to share information and ideas.
2. If this discussion isn’t going well or we want to deepen connection then we can shift to talking about HOW we talk. This is called the PROCESS or “META” level. Most people make the mistake of focusing on how their partner is talking (i.e. complaining about their partner). This usually derails the conversation as your partner defends him or herself and you insist they were being unhelpful. What is far more productive is being able to reflect on how you yourself are talking and especially if you think you are doing something unhelpful e.g. arguing my point instead of listening and considering yours OR being hostile instead of compassionate. So at this level we consider how we are saying what we are saying.
3. The deepest level of discussing is the one that often creates the greatest sense of intimacy because it involves vulnerable self reflection. This is the MEANING level – this is where you ask yourself “why does this matter to me, what is it about for me?” (beyond the obvious content). Often this is initally sub-conscious – we aren’t aware of it unless we stop and reflect about ourselves. When we do there are frequently things going on for you that would NOT be obvious to your partner, so there is now way they could have considered them. For example, “Having holidays is about feeling like I am free and succeeding, unlike my parents who were chained to a business that never quite made it” OR “I feel like a bad parent, unable to control my child if s/he needs me to go in more than twice to settle them at bedtime”. If you can go deep into yourself like this and work out what the issue is about for you then often that opens doors to creative alternative solutions that are more acceptable to your partner.