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We have to get to know people for who they are and get a sense of what makes them tick.

So, let’s say that they tend to be blue sky (lots of throwing around ideas and chatting the ears off you but not so strong on execution) and we’re more organised and need structure. We can learn to nail down outcomes. We’ll find opportunities where each gets to put their strengths to use in the appropriate situations. 

When experience has taught us that we’re dealing with somebody who doesn’t take us at our first no, we then recognise and acknowledge that we have to go easy on the soft no’s with this person and be consistent and direct.

When we notice that our partner’s eating more junk than usual, and we know from previous times that this is a sign of stress, we understand that person’s language. They’re saying, “I’m stressed”. This becomes an opportunity to tune into what’s going on or show support. 

Remember, communication isn’t all verbal; it’s as much about what we don’t say as well as what we do and don’t do. 

When they say that they’re OK and experience has taught us that it means exactly that, we respect it and know that it’s what they mean in future. 

Getting to know someone involves acknowledging consistent patterns, not imagining who we’d prefer them to be or projecting our stuff onto them. 

For instance, if we know that we say that we’re OK when really, we’re not, that’s why we don’t trust someone else’s OK. If we’ve been around others who had this habit, for instance, a past partner or parent/caregiver, we can recognise the baggage that’s coming up for us. We can differentiate between the past and the present. This heals those old experiences by evolving how we respond now and in future. 

If our pattern is to say that we’re OK when we’re not, our partner will learn what that really means for us and probe a bit more. Hopefully, though, we will strive to improve our communication and be more direct, including cutting back on passive-aggressive behaviour or making people ‘dig’ to find out what’s going on. 

If we jump to the conclusion of, “It’s something I’ve said/done” as a response to what people say and do, we miss the opportunity to learn about that person. We also create drama for ourselves because our emotional responses and boundaries don’t evolve, so we remain stuck in the past.

If they tend to withdraw and go solo when they’re struggling or feeling emotionally overwhelmed, rather than making it about us and making ourselves responsible for their feelings and behaviour, we can acknowledge that they’re struggling and empathise. However, we can also acknowledge that checking out of the relationship each time isn’t a workable solution and then broach the subject of the issue. At no point does it have to be about our ‘worth’ or us ‘making’ them be like this. 

Of course, we must first improve our emotional and relationship literacy by learning our own language.

We need to be willing to gain self-awareness and self-knowledge. We need to strive to be who we are.

As long as we keep making assumptions, we’ll experience repeat frustrations. It will be the equivalent of two people each believing they’re speaking and hearing the same language when in actuality, they’re both speaking and hearing different languages but not acknowledging the cues and clues that indicate those differences.

By understanding our own language and being willing to learn someone else’s (and vice versa), each party comes to understand the language of the relationship

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