The secret to a healthy relationship is not what you think. What do most people say it is? You guessed it. It’s communication. But communication alone is not the secret to healthy relationships.
Once you know the difference between communication and dialogue you’ll agree. Dialogue is the real secret to a healthy relationship. And it’s not natural.
Dialogue isn’t natural. But it’s the real secret to a healthy relationship.
Normal communication cannot keep conversations from becoming power/control situations.
For example, if you were a compliant kid growing up, then you may be like me. You can be easily persuaded as an adult. In my book, Beyond Messy Marriages, I write about relationship patterns. We repeat our same familiar “dance steps” in our adult relationships.
Even apart from personal relationships, I have no problem buying products online. I’ve listened to webinars and taken more online classes than I can count. Marketers convince us there’s a limited time only, or the price will never be this low again. Persuasion is a powerful communication method.
If you’re naturally strong-willed, you won’t be easily persuaded. Instead, you spend hours of research before purchases. You’re skeptical of marketers and you have no trouble with being assertive. But, in personal relationships, your conversations can mimic a sales pitch without realizing it.
Relationships are like partnered dancing. One person is assertive while the other is easily persuaded. The complaint one buys the “bill of goods” and later, has buyer’s regret. After a time, this communication pattern in intimate relationships feels manipulative. Trust is weakened and isolation replaces connection.
Communication patterns feel manipulative when you convince instead of listen.
Every one of us desires to be heard and understood in our intimate relationships. That’s why we need to know dialogue. My spiritual director, Dr. David G. Benner was the first to help me understand how dialogue is a gift.
But first, let’s talk about what relationship dialogue is not:
Dialogue is not debate.
Some of us know what it’s like to be on a debate team in high school. We’ve all watched political debates. Neither party is open to the other’s viewpoint. Their only purpose is to win the hearers over to their side. One ends up being a winner and the other a loser.
When marital communication is a debate, one spouse loses. Who wants to sleep with a loser? In reality, both lose.
Dialogue is not discussion.
Some of us call arguing “heated discussions.” Both people try to change the other’s mind, or belief, or behavior. Neither one is listening to the other.
Think of the suffix of the word discussion and how it sounds like the word, concussion. A discussion is to a relationship as a football player is to a head injury. One person suffers.
What Relationship Dialogue is:
Dialogue is a form of communication between two people. They both can walk away feeling heard, understood, and validated. It requires skills of listening. Dialogue requires us to slow down and hear what the other is saying.
Dialogue requires us to slow down and listen.
It requires two people willing to bring attitudes of openness, growth, and curiosity. They desire to honor the others’ differences.
Dialogue seems to happen naturally early on in a romantic relationship. Both are curious and open with the other. Over time, attitudes change. Dialogue eventually migrates to debate or discussion.
Secrets to a Healthy Relationship
Whether you’re a persuader or persuadee, it’s crucial to learn dialogue. We now realize the secret to a healthy relationship is not communication only. It’s dialogue which takes a special skill of listening. Dialogue is the superglue that holds us together. Dialogue connects us in our desire to be seen, heard, and understood.