“No message… is a message.” – Unknown
That is something I had to learn the hard way. Being ignored by someone who said all the right things you’d say to someone you wanted to spend the rest of your life with. But words… are not always enough. The lack of a response, for no good reason or without explanation, is a message with a meaning.
A person’s message, the ways that they communicate their normal everyday behavior, can be confusing. We only see brief microexpressions of a person’s personality in the beginning stages of dating. We think we understand someone’s language (or we fill in the blanks with our own ideals of what we want to see in a partner) to only find out months, years, or even decades later that we totally misunderstood what that other person was truly meaning. Or what they weren’t expressing. Maybe we never even took the time to see with our clear eyes and heart what they were trying to communicate. The unspoken message of who they really are and what they really believe.
I didn’t grow up saying please, thank you, you’re welcome, I’m sorry, excuse me, or God bless you. But at some point in my adult life, I adopted all those phrases as something I say every day. I probably say all of them, especially sorry, more than most. But I still find it odd when I’m dating someone who doesn’t say any of them at all, especially I am sorry. And no, I’m sorry you feel that way, is not the same.
I just can’t get used to not hearing please and thank you. When someone sneezes I say, God bless you. But when there is a lot of silence, it makes me feel like that person doesn’t care. Silence can mean so many things but it doesn’t equal effort. Effort acknowledges others. It acknowledges the needs of others. Or explains what you did or didn’t do. Communication takes effort. Without it, all you have is unspoken words, unspoken messages, and assumptions.
Can I Get Used to This?
I was blind. Refused to see. Not understanding how he spoke to me and what it meant when he didn’t. I didn’t see his “cool as a cucumber” presentation as an avoidant personality. I ignored the way he made fun of me, not seeing his resentment building. And I took the blame for my anxiousness about the relationship when I knew in my gut that something was not right. Wanting to believe the lack of arguing was a good thing. Compared to a narcissist, it seemed nice. But long-term, it really wouldn’t be.
One night after I did most of the work to cook dinner, including the planning and paying for it, with a man who said he loved to cook, I heard him say, “I could get used to this!” At that moment, I sat there and thought… I’m not sure that I can.
And why should I? He had already shown me the person he was. Up until that point, I hadn’t listened to what he was really saying. I invited him into a healthy relationship a dozen or more times. Asked him to share the truth. But he still refused to be open and honest about who he really was. A few short weeks later I was done. Done pretending that the lack of emotional intimacy was okay. His lack of opening up was a cover-up for the truth about his character.
I don’t need affirmation in a relationship. I need acknowledgment that what I do is valued. To be seen, heard, and understood. From someone who is willing to put in the effort. But most of all, I need healthy and understanding communication. We cannot live without it.
Is He Paying Attention?
Healthy communication is necessary for the survival of any relationship. Without honest communication, what do you have to get you through difficult times? No amount of love or “niceness” holds a relationship together. It takes two people willing to do the work, with integrity and kind hearts, with tons of healthy communication, or at least trying, to make things last. Without that, you just have a ton of garbage and resentment under the rug that never gets worked out. Eventually, the pile is so big and the damage is too large to repair that the only option is to end things.
Does he even pay attention to the problems that are accumulating? We can not change another person or make them into the person we knew they could be. Or even the person that they said they were. We have to see the actions and not just the words. And then, stop investing any more time into something that will not last.
You have to be clear and honest with people in order to have healthy long-lasting relationships with them. When you are not clear or share what your personal preferences or boundaries are, you are not allowing them to make the changes they could make to keep the relationship. You are actually saying, “I’m really not worth the effort.”
But you are totally worth it! He just can’t see it. And that should be a red flag that he’s not a good partner. Because a good partner would be paying attention and noticing when things are not working and also pointing them out. You both should. You both would be on the same emotional level, communicating your needs and wants with truthfulness and forthrightness.
Actions speak louder than words. We’ve all heard that saying but do we really listen to the actions or look for the truth behind someone’s words? I’ve met many men who believe in equality, especially in relationships. But after a short time getting to know them, I saw that their behaviors and actions matched better with patriarchy than with women being equal to men.
When I think of equality, I don’t see myself parenting a man and reminding him of the things he should know to do or of something he said he would do. Men will say they can’t stand a “nagging woman” but then expect their partner to keep him on his tasks. All adults are very capable of making themselves a to-do list and checking those things off the list. When this action is not done, and you’re asked to be the reminder of all of his duties, you are essentially carrying his load. You’re doing the thinking for yourself and for him. And guess who is to blame when you forget? You! Not him!
Even with a bachelor’s degree, men have treated me like an uneducated child. Like I don’t research what I am saying, what I believe, or how I live my life. I’ve been talked down to about my choices in politics (which I rarely talk about with anyone), the way that I eat (my healthy diet), and sometimes even laws. I’m starting to believe many men are intimidated by a well-educated, smart, strong independent woman. They just can’t imagine someone would know more than them on any topic. And when they meet someone who does, they have to cut them down and correct them to feel smarter and more powerful.
Effectively communicating with someone means calling someone out on their behavior. It is not always easy to do but it needs to be done. It shows the other person what you will and will not put up with in a relationship. Healthy communication involves both parties expressing, listening, and accepting the other person’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions. This creates a safe environment in which to freely and clearly be one’s true authentic self. And through being your true authentic self you will be free. And free to grow and bloom.
Anything else is unhealthy and a waste of your time.
Making Sense Of It All
It can be hard to accept what you already know about a person from their messages or lack thereof. We hear it in the ways they talk to their mother, how they talk about their ex-wife, or in public to service people. We give them excuses or chances. It’s good to give grace. But to make sense of it all, we really have to trust the intuition that God gave us.
When you know what you know even without concrete confirmation. When you’ve seen this type of behavior before. It’s not going to change. The lies are not going to stop. He’s not going to miraculously want to show you that he cares. Marriage makes problems worse, not better. So if you see a problem while you’re dating, that problem will be ten times worse when you’re married.
It was accepting that fact that helped me to end relationships that I knew were no good for me. It made sense. And I hope that knowing all of this helps you to make sense of that relationship that you wondered about as well. Unless he’s already communicating well with you, don’t send him a long text asking him to change and be the person you need him to be. Just say you’re done and mean it.
Any healing you need to do is done best on your own. I am walking this healing path with you, after divorce.
How do you know if a potential partner is a good communicator or not? It’s not always about how much they talk but what their acts say. Is there any advice or dating stories you’d like to share?
May God bless your healing journey,
Tonya G. says
This article is excellent. Thanks for sharing what you are learning. I just ended or paused a 6 mo. relationship after 4 yr divorced due to speaking disrespectful to me. I did overreact but did not get the apology I felt I deserved. I am learning I need more wholeness but will not settle for what I dealt with in the past either. Thanks again. Keep it coming
Jen Grice says
We are all learning together. Good for you for getting away from disrespect and not settling. Right there with you. And practicing standing up for ourselves. Just like learning boundaries, the change will take many mess-ups until we feel that we’re finally getting it right. Stay strong. Keep going! You are awesome! I’ll keep writing. 😉 Thanks!