Navigating Language barriers in a relationship for effective communication

Navigating Language barriers in a relationship for effective communication

Language is not a neutral medium of communication; cultural context and emotional attributions impact how messages are conveyed and understood.  “Selective listening” is a phenomenon that helps us understand that communication is filtered by factors that go beyond content and are mediated by individual emotional filters. 

Selective listening occurs when we focus on specific parts of a conversation that align with our preconceptions, desires, or expectations while ignoring or misinterpreting other parts. We focus on the information that confirms our beliefs or existing views, influencing how we perceive and interpret conversations. As a result, important information is ignored, and your partner may feel dismissed, unheard, and invalidated. If we don’t do anything about it, those experiences will evolve into states of frustration and resentment, and consequently, avoidance, isolation and/ or rage against oneself or others will follow. 


How can we overcome language barriers in the context of relationships?

Overcoming language barriers in relationships is a joint effort that requires putting in intention, patience, and effort. The positive outcome is that it will strengthen the connection.

Some tips to consider when you perceive some tension or when you want to be sure your partner understands your message are the following: 

If you and your partner have a different mother tongue or cultural background, and the conversation seems not to be flowing, remember that cultural meanings could be interfering with mutual understanding. Pay attention to non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions or body language, and if you are unsure that your partner is understanding your message, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification.

Being empathetic when you feel upset or frustrated may become mission impossible.  Agree with your partner that it is better if you both take some time to calm down and reflect on your emotional needs on those occasions. It is not about dismissing each other’s feelings; on the contrary, it is about being in a better position to understand them and communicating the real issue: the emotional longing. Perhaps it is about needing more attention, and you are arguing about forgetting to collect something at the grocery shop they asked you for. 

Taking time to identify your needs will help you communicate better and be more empathetic. Putting yourself in your partner’s shoes will strengthen your connection. Arguments often happen because of communication breakdowns. It’s not about what is said but about unmet emotional needs. During a conflict, pause and listen to the emotional demands beyond the words. Being curious about your partner’s real needs will help you know each other better and offer deeper emotional support.

Overcoming language barriers in a relationship requires the willingness to learn and adapt, this will help you build a strong and loving relationship.

Written by: Ana Gomez

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