8 of Thoughts

Two hands work to combine beams of colored light into a beautiful and enduring structure. A star shines above, representing an ideal or goal to be strived for.

Communication is not just about speaking clearly and listening attentively. Communication rests on a network of shared assumptions and concepts. In most situations, a shared language and shared culture are enough to provide an acceptable level of mutual understanding, if both parties are sincere. In our intimate relationships, though, we need more that this. We need shared models of each other's personalities, we need a shared conception of the meaning of the relationship, shared objectives, and a shared paradigm of the communication process itself.

In short, we need a common thought structure. This is something that does not emerge sponteously in a relationship. It must be built up gradually, as the partners learn each other's ways of thinking and expressing themselves. It is the product of countless episodes of negotiation, rephrasing, and seeking out points of connection. Of course, two people can never think exactly alike, and should not attempt to. But an intimate relationship cannot thrive unless the people involved at least have a shared vocabulary with which to describe their differences, and a shared set of expectations about how differences should be addressed and resolved.

Structures of all kinds, as necessary as they often are, carry the danger of becoming rigid and static, trapping us into behaviors that get us nowhere. This may happen with the 8 of Thoughts if the structure created in not adequate for all the present realities in the lives of those who built it. This can happen because people change. It can also happen because the structure was too limited or superficial to begin with, perhaps evading known sources of contention or even a whole area of the relationship. Most of us have probably known couples who can't seem to talk about money, for example. Whatever shared assumptions they may have to allow them to communicate about other subjects, those assumptions break down when the problematic subject comes up. In cases like these, the thought structure that is supposed to aid communication actually impedes it, by presenting well-worn patterns of talking and listening that deflect them away from the heart of things.

Our shared ways of thinking can be extraordinary gifts, if we construct them with care and inspect their foundations frequently.