Two words that have struck fear into the hearts of many a brave man. Two words that could mean, “I’m good, thank you for asking,” or, “You have screwed up soooooo bad this time.” All depending on body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and the room dropping five degrees in as many seconds. So how do you tell which it is when you’re sitting 5000 kilometres away, typing messages to each other on facebook? You can’t see how the woman of your life is acting, can’t hear her tone of voice, can’t see her glaring at you, and your air conditioner is keeping the air at a comfortable 23 degrees celsius.
In short? You don’t.
At the best of times I am one who likes plain speech. However, I understand that words play a minor role in the world of communication. We are all responsible for learning our partner’s way of communicating; to pay attention to more than just the words. We need to learn their tone, body language and extra-vocal expressions (sighs, sharp intakes of breath, heavy breathing, etc). In a world where long distance relationships are becoming more common, a lot of communication happens via text. Text, a place where only words count… and smilies.
It is in the arena of text that I believe clarity of speech is essential to the wellbeing of your relationship. I beseech you to remember that your partner cannot see you glaring at them when you say, “It’s nothing.” They have no way of knowing that you’re upset, so you have no right to be upset with them when they move the conversation on.
“But wait,” you say. “I very clearly mean I’m upset when I say, ‘It’s nothing.'”
Actually, no. No, you are not being clear when you say something is nothing. Nothing means, well, nothing. All you are doing when you say something you don’t mean is setting up for a big fight, one which no one wins. You both get hurt, and all you achieve is being more upset than when you started.
If you want the advice of couples who have spent years thousands of miles apart and have a strong and healthy relationship with great communication skills, here it is: If something is wrong and you’re hurt, just say it. Even if you can’t say why you’re hurt yet because you don’t know, that’s fine. Just please, for both your sakes, say what you mean.
The second piece of advice is this: clarification never hurts. Brittany and I quickly got into the habit of looking at what we wrote and if we thought there was the slightest chance it could be misread (because we weren’t clear enough with our words). Then we would send a message clarifying what we meant. Oft times this was unnecessary. However, in some cases the lack of a smiley face (which are prolific in our messages) led the other to read it in a negative tone. If no clarification was sent, feelings were hurt, and tempers flared over, literally, nothing.
Those pieces of advice are easy to give but hard to follow. With practice, however, they will dramatically cut down the number of heated conversations and/or fights you two will have. Brittany and I lost count of the number of fights that were averted in our long distance days because she said when she was hurt and I clarified a message.
So to wrap up, as Shia LeBeouf is so helpfully pointing out above, just say it.