How Communication Imagery Can Cement Your Relationship
Imagery – The True Language of Intimate Communication
When they are newly in love, most couples share their internal world using voice intonation, body language, rhythm, and touch to make certain their partners understand what they truly mean them to hear. They want their partners to imagine the same experience as they are having, to see through their eyes.
Yet, too often, over time, couples change that behavior. They begin using verbal short-cuts and minimal gestures, assuming and believing that they are still communicating as adequately as they once did.
Sadly, this practice is increasing. Even using emojis and pictures, unadorned two-dimensional texts cannot correct the frequent assumptions and misunderstandings that texting regularly creates.
During the four decades I’ve been working with couples, I have been increasingly disturbed by this trend. It has become so common, that, even in my office, I see the same superficial short-cuts and the constant misunderstandings they create.
“Communication is the fuel that keeps the fire of your relationship burning, without it, your relationship goes cold.” – William Paisley
Couples who stay in touch with each other’s internal world must begin using imagery again to be able to imagine what it is truly like to live in the hearts and minds of the others.
Some cultures communicate this way naturally. An American Indian man once told me that there was a herd of buffaloes running around in his head, instead of just telling me that he had a “headache.” A Buddhist patient of mine told me that his facial cancer felt as if his “angry grandmother was pulling his cheeks away from the bone because he was rebellious with her as a child.” I felt his grandmother’s frustration with him as well as his physical pain.
I fondly remember a nine-year-old boy, when I asked him why he was in therapy, looking at me as if I was truly dense. “My drunk mother staggers around the room with her boobs hanging out, and my dad’s a pervert and a liar. He makes me feel like I want to throw something at him. He has all these naked girl pictures under his bed and wants me to be a priest. Does he think I’m so stupid that I can’t see that he’s just covering his own shit? I feel like my insides are on fire.”
I got the picture, the remarkably communicated imagery. I was invited into his internal world by his colorful descriptions and by his open hunger for anyone to just understand. I could feel his pain because he created the imagery that helped me see it as if I were there.
Communicating imagery requires the use of more exact descriptive adjectives and phrases to help differentiate one phrase from another. If you simply, for example, tell someone that you “feel dizzy,” the person listening has no idea whether you mean dazed, woozy, reeling, or just off-balance, the way they would feel if they used the same word.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t being said. The art of reading between the lines is a life long quest of the wise.” – Shannon L. Adler
Or what if your partner describes the peach he’s eating as really “yummy.” Maybe he or she really means something more like delectable, luscious, enticing, or mouth-watering. Wouldn’t one of those other words communicate a different experience to you? Especially if your grandma had a peach tree and your summers were filled with memories of peach pie and peach jam.
Every word or phrase conjures up links to other memories and prior moments, often very different for each partner. If they are communicated without using imagery, it is much more likely they will not be accurately shared.
The best way I can illustrate this is to give a couple of examples that illustrate the difference between superficial communication and imagery-rich communication. I’ve deliberately made one about joy and one about sorrow to show how important these changes can be across the span of human experience. And because couples today most often connect by texting, I’ve written them in that context.