A well thought out, systemic approach for looking at how we communicate and the impact it has on those around us, Marty Babits’s new book should be on hand for anyone in a relationship.
In I’m Not a Mind Reader: Using the Power of Three-Dimensional Communication for a Better Relationship, Babits reveals the way our words affect others — especially our romantic partners. He begins by laying out just what he means by three-dimensional communication. The first dimension, Babits tells us, is the literal meaning of our words. Through narrative example, he describes how when we “misspeak, mishear, misunderstand, confuse, conflate, or otherwise misconstrue what has been said” we make serious errors that can lead to relationship problems. But in the second dimension, he goes deeper: the emotional undertone of the message, and the attitude with which we say the words.
Then, the third dimension, Babits tell us, is where we or our partners take what happens in the first and second dimensions and compare and contrast it with the goals of the relationship.
“Partners judge whether their conversation adds to or detracts from the atmosphere of emotional safety in the relationship,” he writes. But what is emotional safety? Babits says it results from “a process of self-monitoring called neuroception.” Using examples from his many years as a therapist, Babits then dives into the interactions, triggers, and emotions that so often undermine emotional safety.
Unraveling complex interactions, Babits takes us into the therapy office with him. He encourages us with tips to increase doubt awareness, slow down the communication, build empathy, examine our interpretations, and front-load our conversations with positive intention. While these concepts have the potential to become vague, Babits cleverly packs each chapter with assessments and exercises to help cement and clarify his tools.
Moving from the foundation of relationships to the recovering of them, Babits then explores how critical conversations can either disable trust or support it. Using an example of a couple at an impasse, he introduces the many ways that innocent interactions can easily derail a relationship. He presents an interaction, then parses it — and shows how several different outcomes can emerge from this one exchange.
There are two pitfalls, Babits tells us, that are especially easy to fall into. One is “the power of the unconscious.” As he writes, “we tend to deny its influence on our relationships and pay a price for that.”
At the same time, he writes, “our preconceptions limit our ability to see clearly what is in front of our noses.”
The good news is, for every failed communication, there may be a way to recover. Even for a couple whose affection has turned cool, Babits writes, there are ways to move toward a warm feeling, and a place where arguments can be quickly resolved.
Babits also introduces us to the latest research on neuroscience in relationships. Drawing our attention to how up-regulation of the limbic system shuts down the frontal cortex and cognitive control, Babits shows us how to create a “contingency plan” to avoid chronic fight-or-flight responses. He also shows how we react to a variety of stimuli, and how “primal emotions” — such as rage, panic, lust, and fear — influence our empathy.
And empathy is, of course, important. Babits provides tools to detect and build empathy, as well as ways to avoid power struggles. As he puts it, in many relationships the power struggle “becomes the medium through which all emotion is exchanged.” And that, he writes, makes it “the enemy of love,” as it “hypnotizes partners into focusing on not getting hurt.”
What Babits leaves us with is a way to resist this hypnosis. His book not only challenges the power struggle we might find ourselves in, but gives us the rope we need to pull ourselves out.
I’m Not a Mind Reader: Using the Power of Three-Dimensional Communication for a Better Relationship
HCI, May 2015
Paperback, 264 pages