Relationship Communication – Marty Babits
Relationship communication is one of the important subjects that couples should consider. Truly, communication is the key to a good relationship but what type of communication should couples have in order to create emotional safety and to stay connected? In this interview with Marty Babits, a counselor, a therapist, and the author of the book I’m Not a Mind Reader: Using the Power of Three-Dimensional Communication for a Better Relationship, he talks about the different dimensions of relationship communication and how these can make you become mindful of yourself and of your partner. If couples can do this, they can work through difficulties quickly.
There are three Dimensions of Relationship Communication.
- First one is very superficial. It is what people say to each other and a literal meaning of what goes back and forth between people.
- Second dimension is an emotional sub-text. It’s feeling behind the words which is the key to relationship communication.
- Third dimension is the deepest and the most profound. It’s the dimension of being mindfulness.
- What are the words mean? What are the feelings?
- Can you make a decision about how to use what’s being communicated to move towards creating emotional safety?
Most couples who come in in their first couple’s therapy session say they’re not communicating with each other, this is why relationship communication is so important.
To be able to start listening on these three levels, you need to feel safe to explore what you need to know and learn.
According to research, it isn’t the arguments or the fights that are crucial. It’s how you repair through relationship communication.
You can get better at listening on these three dimensions by practicing being compassionate towards yourself and by demonstrating your commitment to tuning your partner in so they know when you are off.
Evolution wise, we have three brains in our head. This concept is called The Triune Brain.
- First, we have the lower brainstem or The Snake Brain – responsible for the involuntary responses
- Next is the middle brain or The Emotional Brain. It’s also called The Tiger Brain or The Mammalian Brain. – Responsible for the fight or flight response
- Third is the cerebral cortex which is the most advanced. – It is in charge of decision making.
When the middle brain is activated, the cerebral cortex is deactivated. It means losing the decision making power, that makes relationship communication harder.
If you notice that you’re triggered, you need to slow down to avoid saying something that may take you in a direction you don’t want to go.
Anticipate that misunderstandings happen because of what we say and they do happen. We must learn how to respond to it quicker.
Anger response can be avoided if you got used thinking the consequences of your actions or words.
Knowing your partner’s heart is the key. You need to know him/her in his/her vulnerability.
Get to know each other really well because that’s how you can love and explore each other.
Explore feeling that life is an adventure and you’re both in it together.
Majority of issues that couples are having are not the ones we have a direct a solution to.
Understand what your partner needs from you. Then, you can complement and inspire each other.
Most people don’t think relationship communication is the sexiest thing but for most researchers, it is.
Communication sets the stage for creativity and opens you up to possibilities. It can be applied to any area of the relationship including the sexual part.
On today’s episode, we’re going to talk about how powerful is relationship communication and how you can do so to minimize problems, increase connection, and have more intimacy in any relationship in your life.
Today’s guest is Marty Babits, a counselor, and therapist who has worked with hundreds of families and couples over the past 25 years. Today, Marty joins us to talk about his book, the three-dimensional communication, and the three different levels of communication.
Marty is also the co-director of FACTS (Family and Couples Treatment Services) in Manhattan and he is here to join us to talk about how we can have better communication in all of our relationships.
Welcome. Have you been tuning in? You’ve heard some of our interviews with Don Miguel Ruiz and Dr. Harville Hendrix. Today, we want to dive into communication which is for me, the beginning of intimacy. Intimacy itself is a form of communication.
So, we’ve brought on Marty Babits, who’s written a book called I’m Not a Mind Reader: Using the Power of Three-Dimensional Communication for a Better Relationship. Now, what I like about the beginning of that title is, “I’m Not a Mind Reader”. It’s so important in relationships and yet, don’t we just do this even on accidents sometimes Kamala? Where we want the other person just to know what we’re thinking?
Yeah. Well, I’m feeling tensed right now. So you should just know that I need your attention.
Having Better Relationship Communication Is Important
Marty, welcome to the show, we are excited to learn more about relationship communication. Let’s just dive in. The title itself says, “Three-Dimensional” and one thing I understand from the work that you’ve done and your research is that there are three different levels of communication. So, let’s start diving in. What are those three levels? And then, let’s dig deeper.
Yeah, sure. The three dimensions of relationship communication are very superficial. The first one is very superficial. It’s just what people say to each other and a literal meaning of what goes back and forth between people. The second dimension is an emotional sub-text. It’s the feeling behind the words and a lot of the work I do has to do with bringing out the feeling behind the words. The third dimension is the deepest and most profound. It’s the dimension of mindfulness and it’s a dimension in which you take stack of what’s going on the most superficial levels. What are the words mean? What are the feelings associated with relationship communication? Can you make a decision about how to use what’s being communicated to move towards creating emotional safety?
So right there, you get a dynamic where your awareness is pushing you towards figuring out what will create emotional safety and that becomes your mantra. It’s not like a tricked formula but more like a meditation practice where you tune in to your breath to calm yourself or you tune in to thinking about what’s going to create emotional safety and that means what’s going to help me promote a mindful.
If I’m angry for example, and I’m feeling like I want to blame my partner for making me angry. Can I take a minute to think, “If I attack them, am I moving the relationship communication in the direction I wanted to go?” So, direction is big part of what I think about and what I try to help couples take hold of and move with.
So, another piece of being connected is building hope because a lot of couples come in for a couple’s therapy and they feel stuck with relationship communication. They feel like they can’t move. They want to communicate and connect emotionally, sexually, even to be able to make plans together. They’re just not getting along. The word that they often used when they come in in the first session is, “We’re not communicating,” but they don’t have the feel for what relationship communication really means. So that’s how I came up with this idea. I wanted something as simple as 1 – 2 – 3 that could be explained easily.
That’s really great.
I just think that’s such a beautiful, simple, and masterful way to break it down to this whole first level of the literal meaning behind what people are saying about relationship communication, the emotional sub-text, and then to really come in with the observer with this mindfulness where we can actually observe what’s happening within ourselves and within the other person.
Yeah, thank very much. It puts an emphasis on something that I speak about a lot in couples’ therapy, which is “Couples argue. Couples fight” but the research says it isn’t the arguments or the fights that are crucial. It’s how you repair the relationship communication. It’s how you pick yourself up after you’ve been knocked down. It’s how you try to heal a mistake if you’ve made one. The method is to help you look at things that way.
You’re not trying to be perfect because nobody can be but you’re trying to be connected through better relationship communication. You’re making a commitment to think about what you and your partner is feeling, and think about putting the two together.
So, if people can start to do that, they can really do a lot of work on relationship communication. It takes a long time for that to catch. It’s like I have a lot of ideas at front load to work because if they get to those beginning ideas and can move with them, they can have traction in a relationship. However, if they don’t get these very basic ideas, they’re going to be spending their wheels and I’m going to be listening to the same fight over and over again, just different versions of the same thing.
Getting Better At Relationship Communication
Do you have any recommendations on how to start this process of building relationship communication and listening on these three levels?
Sure. My examples come from my therapy practice and from my life as well. I was in couples’ therapy 30 years ago before I really knew much about it. It taught me that there was a lot about myself and thinking about relationships I didn’t know. It opened me up to my blind spots.
So if people are coming in for therapy, I want to make them feel safe to explore, evaluating what they need to know and learn about relationship communication. That’s an intern in terms of therapy and of everyday life. You can take any example of an interchange and work through the three dimensions to lead towards compassion rather than conflict. It’s another way of looking at it. It’s like it draws you towards a compassionate view of what’s going on. Compassionate to yourself and your partner.
I love that piece that you said about, “It’s not really about the problem, it’s your ability to repair,” and that’s something that Kamala and I had really witnessed when we were in the class with Harville Hendrix. Do you remember that?
Yeah, absolutely. Something that Harville said was, “It’s about how quickly you repair,” and that was a big breakthrough for us because we do have disagreements and working in the field of intimacy and relationship communication, we put a little extra pressure on ourselves sometimes.
The emphasis is on the repair, which is very frame.
Absolutely, and I use meditation as a metaphor to explain this aspect of relationship communication sometimes. If you’re doing a meditative practice and your mind floats away, that doesn’t mean you’re not doing your practice. That’s part of the whole exercise and part of it is bringing yourself back, nourishing relationship, nourishing yourself, and being able to be flexible.
Focus your attention to different places at different times but come back to your priorities and work through difficulties. Show the commitment to connection that leads to better relationship communication.
So how do we get better in communication? Because the thing about a lot of people is that we communicate with our heads and we’re looking at what’s being said even though we’re more moved by emotion. It’s e-motion so we’re moved and put in motion by feelings.
Sometimes, I’ll listen to Kamala and she’ll say something and I’ll feel irritated by what she said. Instead of hearing her feelings and saying, “I heard you say that and I could tell that you are feeling upset,” or “It seems that something is bothering you,” and learning how to cultivate that skillset where I’m not listening at that first dimension but that second dimension and then, moving to that third dimension of having or feel safety begins really with that second level.
How do we get better at relationship communication in this case?
You get better by practicing being compassionate towards yourself and by demonstrating your commitment to tuning your partner in through relationship communication so they know when you are off.
Let’s say partners are talking and one of them has a bad taste of a skin rash. So they share it with their partner and the partner says, “That’s it really too bad. I wish there was something I can do about it but it’ll get better.”
Flash forward 15 minutes and the person who said, “I wish there something I can do about it. Sorry you feel that way.” He is exhausted. It’s been a long day. He falls asleep since it’s already late at night. He’s partner comes in a room and wakes him and says, “You know, I feel like crying. I am so upset because not only do I feel like I look terrible with this rash but it hurts,” and he says, “Is it contagious?”
Now, did he really mean that? Does he not care about it as long as he’s not going to get it? Is that what their relationship is about? Not really. They love each other and are good at relationship communication. She’s got to have it in her head. She’s catching him at his worst. She doesn’t wasn’t to freeze him there. She can say, “Gee, I’m disappointed. I wanted some empathy and I’m taking it back by the way your responding.” They can talk about it in other words.
He can reflect on what he’s done and say, “Hey, yeah. That was harsh.” She can also see his point of view, which is, “I was exhausted and you woke me and you know I have trouble sleeping.”
So there are two sides to everything and things can get very complicated at relationship communication.
Something I want to talk a little bit about is learning to be sophisticated about what you’re like when you are triggered that you tend to do or say something harsh.
If you can put up with a 90-second neuroscience lesson, I’ll tell you what I mean. Is that okay?
Exploring Feelings With Better Relationship Communication
Evolution wise, we actually have three brains in our head. The guy who came up with this concept got a Nobel Prize. It’s called, “The Triune Brain” and it has three parts. The lower brainstem, informally, we call it the, “Snake brain” just has to do with involuntary responses like heartbeat and respiration. They are things you don’t think about or make choices about and things that just happen. That’s the most primitive cranial function. Relationship communication is closely associated with neuroscience.
The middle brain is often called, “The Emotional Brain” or the brain within the brain. It’s also called, “The Tiger Brain” or “The Mammalian brain”. It’s much more developed than the lower brain but you still can’t think with it. You can only respond. You can fight or flight. That’s where the fight or flight response comes from. If you’re triggered, it means that the middle brain has signalled the situation is dangerous. What happens is we’ve evolved to such a point that the rest of the brain, that third part of the brain, the most advanced, newest evolutionary development in the brain, the cerebral cortex, makes up the 80% of the brain. However, when the emotional brain, the middle brain is activated, the cortex is deactivated. So, you’re losing a lot of decision making power that affects relationship communication.
You can be aware of what you’re feeling but you can’t make decisions about how you’re feeling. You react. That’s what the middle brain is. So, you have to be fair to yourself. Once you get the idea of how this things work, if you’re triggered, the best you can do is notice you’re triggered and say, “Honey, right now, I’m triggered. If I say something, it’s probably going to take us in a direction we don’t want to go and I’m not going to feel good about it. I need to slow down. That’s what I need right now.” I call that like a substitute response in relationship communication. Instead of just blurting out something like what this guy said, “Is it contagious?” You would say, “I don’t know what to say right now and I don’t want to say something I don’t mean.” This is the best example of better relationship communication.
You’re asking for tips on how to handle this situation. You anticipate that these things happen because they do happen and then, you anticipate also that sometimes you’re going to slip and say something you really regret and you’re going to respond to it hopefully quicker and quicker.
At some point, you might extinguish the anger response because you’re so used to thinking, “Hey, I don’t want to do that. That’s not what’s going to make me feel good or make the relationship feel good.” It’s a matter of working with communication over time. Does that make sense?
Yeah, definitely. It’s good for people to get this because sometimes, people will see me in classes and we’re demonstrating how to do the emotional sensitivity in communication or how to listen from the heart-centered space and then, “Oh, man. I’m never going to get that.” However, what I’ve discovered is that the key to it is trying because as much as I know Kamala, I’m wrong many times, if not, most of the times, about what she’s feeling.
The thing is that once she knows I’m in that state of wanting to feel into what she’s going through and understand her, she gives me the answers. It’s not rocket science and if I try, it’s almost dummy proof.
Yeah. It’s not rocket science but it involves a certain kind of humanizing coordination that can be subtle in relationship communication. Like I see and hear that you guys really work together. That’s a beautiful thing and I love what you said about the heart space. I love that phrase.
In the back cover of my book, there’s a phrase which is a title of a chapter. The title is, “I can’t read your mind but I need to know your heart” because that’s the key. I need to know you in your vulnerability. I need our relationship to be safe enough so even though it may not come out directly all the time, we eventually get down to what’s really going on.
Get to know each other really well. That’s how you really can love, explore, and give your full selves to each other.
Explore feeling with relationship communication that life is an adventure and you’re in it together. It’s like, to take a sec to go in this direction. It’s almost a cliché to say that love is like making music. I used to play in bands so I used to think about this kind of thing. The idea is when people hear musicians play, it becomes a template for communicating because they know that good musicians listen to each other and they leave spaces for each other, and they anticipate each other’s movements, and they try not to get in each other’s way. They try to really bolster each other. So that the emotional tone of the piece comes through.
What a lot of people don’t realize is when you’re listening to music, you can close your eyes and just be nourished but in order to make that music and make it happen that way, it takes a lot of work, concentration, and focus. On the musicians’ part, it takes intentionality, dedication, and passion.
You want something to feel natural and organic but you also want to have humility in the face of how wonderfully complex it is. That’s how rich love is.
The Three Dimensions of Relationship Communication
I wanted to back up for a moment too because what a lot of people don’t know is that when the research done by Dr. John and Julie Gottman, which is my background and they found that 69% of problems are perpetual problems, 31% of problems are once that have solutions. What that means is a majority of issues that couples are having are not ones that we have a direct a solution to.
For example, something about Kamala is she’s very focused and detail-oriented, and that is an incredible skillset that she has. It’s something that I deeply admire. Me on the other hand, I’m like childlike and goof off, and constantly, I’m very whimsical like, “Oh! This Idea sounds cool,” and I’m a dreamer. Sometimes, that frustrates both of us because I come with this wild idea and I’m so jazz like a kid kicking down the door and going, “Ooh, ooh. I got this idea.” and Kamala is like, “Oh God. This idea just sounds like so much work,” because she sees the method and the plan. Sometimes we have issues around that.
The truth be told is this isn’t an issue that’s ever going to go away because Kamala, her gift is her ability to see the methods and my downfall is my ability to not see that. Vice versa, my gift is that I can dream very fearlessly and freely and vice versa, her downfall is she can get wrapped in details. So, we’ll have issues around it and better relationship communication helps us overcome it.
What Dr. John and Julie Gottman say and this is really helpful for us, is that it’s not so much resolving the problem, it’s understanding that this is what Kamala needs from me. It’s like sometimes for me to slow down or for me to maul over my dreams before I just come in like throw 100 ideas at her and then she gets a headache and then I get frustrated because I feel like my dream just got knocked down. There’s a certain kind of complementary to the problem.
Yeah, there’s the dance when every couple is going to have a dynamic like this in their own form.
I love to hear a little bit more from you Marty about the methods of relationship communication, these three communication opportunities that we have that you’ve been talking about in these three dimensions and how can we apply this dimensions to something like that?
Well, I love Gottman’s contribution in relationship communication. I probably mentioned it more than everybody else in my book in terms of other people that I’ve relied on because they’ve done so much great couple research about communication. When you look at that statistics, 69% of what couples do together basically has just to be accepted because it’s not going to change, and you can work with the other 31%. It doesn’t mean your 69% is like a hopeless mess. It really doesn’t mean that. What it means is…
I can certainly understand how the two styles you just described about relationship communication would create problems at times but I also can understand how they would complement each other. If you draw the string set of both of those styles, you can really move with that and you can inspire each other.
We do. Those two traits that we have make us very successful as a combination. I think that’s the same thing with all couples. It may not be the same dynamic but whatever it is that you’re struggling with within your partner might be the very gold in your relationship.
Which you really do.
I think appreciation goes a long way as well. It’s just being able to appreciate this is the person’s gift. I can see that Luis is a dreamer and has a whimsical nature. If I just appreciate it and look for ways how to support it, real miracles happen.
Which you really do.
It’s incredible when I don’t fight against it and I think that we all have this incredible gift inside of us. If we can help our partners bring it out with our appreciation and support, amazing things can happen.
We did an interview with Arielle Ford, who’s a sister of Debbie Ford and she wrote a book that I just really enjoy. The idea and the premise are just great. It was a book on Wabi Sabi, which is an ancient Japanese art and essentially what Wabi Sabi is in a nutshell is taking problems and flipping them on its head and seeing how you can be appreciative of the problems.
Arielle gave an example. She’s been married for 20+ years and one of the things that she didn’t like about her husband, and it was something that she explored while she was writing this book is that he leaves like coffee mugs. She just finds throughout the house. It’s like sets him down and little things like that and she said, “How can I flip this upside down?” So then, she flipped it with like, “Wow, I’m really appreciative that now, when I look around the house, those coffee mugs remind me that I have someone that loves me and that I get to be in a wonderful relationship and that totally flipped the problem.
Now, those cups are a reminder of gratitude. It’s not like, “Oh, God. I got to pick up after this slob.” It’s, “Oh, I’m glad that he’s here.” If somebody passed away, I would miss that. I’d be like, “You know, I kind of miss seeing that person’s coffee mug around and they’re gone.”
Yeah. I know exactly. That’s a great example. Sometimes, untidiness can be a sign of liveliness which is important for better relationship communication.
I’m going to use that one next time I don’t feel like cleaning.
It’s worth a try.
This is all great information about relationship communication Marty. Now, with people want to grab your book or find out more about you, where should they go?
All of that is on the show notes but it’s good for people to hear it right now, martybabits.com and then, go ahead and continue where we can find your book.
This communication piece, this stuff that takes time and one of our guest said this communication stuff isn’t the most sexy. It doesn’t sound sexy but when we’re researchers like yourself and myself, it actually is the most sexy thing out there.
It can be applied to any dimension including the sexual part. Like when you’re talking about validation, connection, warmth, generosity, and love, and how those fit into communication.
You also are making a bridge to talking about sexuality because I think sexuality gets left behind a lot and I agree with you that most people, when they hear relationship communication, they don’t think it’s the sexiest thing around.
That’s right. Yeah, it’s true. Speaking to like therapist and stuff, they say if they title their courses like “Communication”, they don’t tend to get a lot of attendance. The therapist as far as the marketing goes, had to get more creative around that but then, soon people are in their in the class, they’re like, “Okay, let’s talk about communication.”
Yeah, and if you really can teach something about it and people come away feeling they understand something more than they did before, then it feels good. Imagine it can feel dry sometimes but it doesn’t have to be.
Well, it certainly hasn’t been dry talking with you.
It’s been really fun knowing your thoughts about relationship communication.
I so appreciate how you’ve broken down these three dimensions of communication. Also, we’ve talked about some really great resources today like other shows that we have had, the Gottman’s, Arielle Ford, Harville Hendrix.
Anything else before we sign out?
Just to say it’s been a pleasure. It’s lovely talking to you both.
Thank you Marty.
I have a very good warm vibe from your relationship, which is nice to be in contact with.
Thank you. Yeah, you have a very warm vibe. Just talking, I started feeling more relaxed. So thank you so much.