Why Good Communication is the Foundation of Enduring True Friendship
Dr. Barry Hammer
Agreement or disagreement is much less important than good communication as a way of enabling people to deeply understand each other, and, thereby, gradually develop the ability to feel inwardly close to each other, as caring good friends. Good communication, as the basis of true friendship, means that one does not keep one’s inner experience to oneself alone, but, instead, actively reaches out to share one’s experience, feelings, thoughts, and needs with another person, as openly, honestly, directly, fully, constructively, and non-judgmentally, as possible. Good communication, as the basis of true and enduring friendship, also involves being open to considering another person’s viewpoint and needs, and constructively exploring differences that may arise between oneself and the other person, without trying to win an argument, but, rather, only exploring together into the truth of those issues, without blaming, abusing, or trying to intimidate and control each other, and without insisting that one is always totally “right” and the other person is always totally “wrong”. Without that kind of good communication, actively reaching out to share one’s heart and mind with another person, one’s inner being remains hidden, disconnected, self-enclosed, so real understanding and close, caring, feelings cannot grow, as a deepening friendship.
So many friendships and romantic relationships fail because people permit themselves to “grow apart”, or gradually drift apart, without ever taking responsibility to deeply reveal themselves to the other person, and deeply tune into the other person, empathically, and intuitively, in order to directly experience what the other person means by the particular words that they say, or write, “reading between the lines”, so to speak, or tuning into an even deeper level of another person’s being, beyond all definable words and images. That deepest level of empathic/intuitive communion is the Source from which all true love and friendship arises, and that is what enables true love and friendship to keep growing deeper, closer, and grander, instead of gradually drifting apart because of lack of good communication, producing lack of mutual understanding, and lack of inner closeness. What makes people true friends of each other, rather than strangers, most essentially, is not outer physical contact, shared activities, and superficial social interaction, by themselves alone, but much more importantly, arises from development of substantial inner connection, by giving deeply, generously, unselfishly, of their energies to each other, and openly, honestly, directly, revealing their actual experience and true essential core being to one another.
Many relationships fail when individuals seek to be heard and nurtured, but have not developed a sufficient ability to be unselfishly, empathically, tuned into, aware of, and caringly responsive to, the other person’s need to also be heard and nurtured, in terms of their particular needs, feelings, and experiences, in a given moment. It takes a rather high level of unselfish caring, empathic sensitivity, and emotional maturity to be able to put aside one’s own needs and train of thought (or inner mental monologue) for a while, in order to empathically tune into what another person is feeling and needing, in a given moment, and respond in a way that enables the other person to feel truly heard and deeply nourished/nurtured. Like a couples dance, both partners (or individuals in some other kind of relationship) need to learn how to flow together in empathic harmonious communion with one another (“in step” with each other’s dance movements, metaphorically speaking), and, relatedly, also flow in harmonious attunement with the “dance music” of love, or caring friendship, that seeks to lead both of them into greater attunement with each other, as a related “we”, rather than a separate “you versus me.”
My own experience has shown me that if one is overly invested in preserving the ego’s sense of separate self-awareness, willful selfish demands, and inner monologue fantasy (being overly absorbed in one’s own train of thought), then it can become difficult to self-forgetfully tune into what another person is experiencing, feeling, and needing, regardless of whether or not the other person verbally communicates that, or which can also be empathically intuited, as a kind of nonverbal communication. I find that when I hold certain presumptions or preconceptions about another individual, and about my relationship with/to them, then those presumptions can function like a kind of overlay, opaque filter, or smokescreen, that I, consciously or subconsciously, project upon them, preventing me from directly contacting their actual experiential states, because I am, instead, projecting my own preconceptions upon them.
I find that even negative feelings, such as, frustration, or even anger, can be expressed in a constructive, nonjudgmental, non-blaming, open, sincerely caring, non-evasive, manner, which usually leads to greater understanding of each other, and of whatever issue has been blocking us from being in harmonious caring attunement with each other (preventing us from being “on the same page”, so to speak), and once those issues are constructively explored into and deeply understood, then they can be truly resolved and transcended (rather than merely being covered over, buried, or suppressed), enabling emotional closeness and caring feelings in the relationship to grow. I find that being honest with myself, in terms of being willing to openly admit to myself when I am permitting previously unrecognized, non-constructive, insincere, ego “games” to undermine the relationship, such as, evasiveness (talking or chattering without really saying anything), letting myself become emotionally shut down (engaging in emotional abandonment, which can function as a way of subtly trying to punish the other person, by withholding caring, affection, or attentive listening), giving in to wounded pride, as a resentful attitude, or adopting an overly selfishly demanding attitude. I find that when I am willing to acknowledge and let go of such egocentric habitual patterns, then those obstructing factors that tend to block caring feelings and mutual understanding tend to fall away, naturally, effortlessly.
For a relationship to endure and grow, it is important for both individuals to be good friends in each other, willing to confide in each other, be there for each other emotionally as well as physically in times of need, and be willing to share difficult times, and patiently work through persistent problems in the relationship, rather than being quick to abandon the other person, and the relationship with them, when discomfort arises. That is what it means to be an unselfishly devoted “friend for all seasons” rather than a selfishly fickle “fair-weather friend.” When I do not understand how to constructively understand and resolve, disagreements and other problems, in a relationship, then I find it helpful to invite the spirit of unselfish pure love to interpret the situation, which can enable me to see beyond, and not be myopically, exclusively, locked into, the ego’s interpretations of those situations, which are often based on incorrect presumptions and non-constructive, unrealistic, selfish wants.
I find that when I let go of the ego’s overly controlling, willful, prideful, selfish, narcissistically self- absorbed tendencies (as in the ancient Greek Myth story of Narcissus), that I find that the flow of love, or sincerely caring friendship, is no longer blocked, and then harmony and mutual empathic understanding arises automatically, effortlessly, spontaneously. When those ego “coverings”, “filters”, “overlays”, or “smokescreens”, are removed, then there is no longer any blockage to good communication and deep empathic communion with each other. That reminds me of one of my favorite songs, “On a clear day, you can see forever….” Along these lines, I find the philosopher Martin Buber’s distinction between I-Thou relationships (genuinely caring) and I-It relationships (egocentric, selfishly exploitative) relationships helpful, as described in some of his writings, such as, “I and Thou”, and “The Way of Response.”
A more extensive discussion of the insights discussed in this article is presented in two books that I co-authored with my beloved late father, Dr. Max Hammer:
1) Deepening Your Personal Relationships: Developing Emotional Intimacy and Good Communication.
2) Psychological Healing Through Creative Self-Understanding and Self-Transformation.