Whether by intent or plan, patterns get set at home. Sunday night is pizza. The couch looks good where it was originally put down. The same goes for personal routines. One partner meditates every morning in the study; the other bikes on the weekend. Often, they come with tells – a specific pair of sweatpants goes on or both earbuds go in. The unspoken signal is clear: “I need this time. Don’t bug me.”
Indirect communication is a big part of relationships and we’d all be better off if we learned to read the signals. While indirect communication is certainly not useful in a number of scenarios and can quickly come off as passive aggression, there are ways to use it correctly. As we get to know each other, it’s natural we have shortcuts.
And those shortcuts are crucial. When you spend more time at home like when you have a new baby or, oh, there’s a pandemic we all need to find moments to ourselves and thus the need for indirect communication grows. Few partners would argue with the proposition. Many already ask for a timeout, but sometimes not having to say any words to get it is a relief.
But to make the exchange silent, it first needs to be worked out to set the ground rules and expectations. Do that right and you experience one of the highlights of a committed relationship: wordless understanding. But when you forgo the planning and over-rely on non-verbal cues, it can slide into not talking, assumptions, and resentment.
Here’s how to talk about your shortcuts and use indirect communication so you don’t have to talk about them anymore.
Wordless Exchange: How to Establish Indirect Communication
You and your partner’s unspoken signals might seem obvious, and they might have been effective in the past. But they often need to be revisited, because, well, everything in the world has changed.
It begins with a conversation laying out intent. If you don’t take, partners will go ahead and figure out what’s going on, because, people are natural sense-makers.
But when you talk, you strip away the mystery and get the necessary ingredient: buy-in. How to Make Sure Indirect Communication Is Working
Even with a discussion, the shortcut might become a problem because it eventually stops working, or it doesn’t work as well as it was imagined because of course it doesn’t. This can lead to one person fuming over. The willingness to rethink any arrangement should be part of the original agreement, but it’s up to the aggrieved to bring up concerns. Mind reading still is not an effective communication approach.
There’s a balance that needs to be struck. You and your partner can agree up front that the shortcut will happen, regardless of screaming children or regular workloads.
That certainly has been 2020’s motto. The pandemic in December is not what it was in July or in March. Kids make everything more so. What they do and need can change without much heads-up. In order to have your unspoken shortcuts, it’s about staying flexible and working as a team.