Developing a common language with your partner

If you have ever experienced culture shock, you’ll know how alarming it is to have all your subconscious ‘rules’ about how to survive and live, come crashing down as you are immersed in a country totally foreign to your own. Culture shock is a real phenomenon, and something similar is often experienced by two people when they get married or enter into an intimate relationship – even if their ‘cultural origins’ are the same.

We all tend to think that our way of doing things and approaching issues is more ‘normal’ than everyone else’s. As arguments flare over family protocol and manners, and loyalties to our extended families create conflict, we quickly discover what assumptions we have hidden below the surface. The types of assumptions we have may vary from the best way to discipline kids, to how to spend a Saturday morning, to which way the toilet roll should face! Perhaps you had no idea that you felt so strongly about the ‘under’ method (because that’s the way your family has always done it), until your partner replaced the toilet roll using the ‘over’ method.

To sacrifice our views in the interest of compromise and family harmony can feel a lot like sacrificing a part of ourselves. The question, “Why should I be the one to compromise?” is a heartfelt cry I hear fairly often in my clinic. As a counsellor, I regularly see the need for couples to have a third party present when they’re discussing issues and topics that trigger some pretty strong reactions. This may not be necessary (depending on the issue), but sometimes having someone of moderate views and a common-sense approach around can help bring alternative tools and responses to the table.

With some good, honest communication, polarising issues can often be resolved by finding a ‘third way’ – a common language. Developing a common language has less to do with our mother tongue and culture of origin than it has to do with the depth of respect we have for our partner’s differences, and the level of awareness we have of our own differences. Respect for a ‘foreign’ perspective is maintained through negotiation (refer to issue 65 for more on this), faith in the other’s motives, giving the benefit of the doubt repeatedly, and learning how to hear deeply. Knowing what our own assumptions and triggers are will also lead to honesty and humility – key factors in having conversations that can lead to positive change.

Difference and diversity is a beautiful thing – and respecting it in one another is a great way to model respect to our kids. However, if your differences are becoming a point of constant tension in your relationship with your partner, it may be a good idea to seek some help.


About Author

David Riddell

David Riddell is a counsellor, author and communicator and is the founder of the Living Wisdom Association of Counsellors. For more info, visit

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