A Metaphor For Communication

Katie Young
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Wednesday - May 17, 2006
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There once was a man and a woman who began a relationship. They did all the normal things couples do like going to the movies and to the beach. They were together a long time and became very close. One day, they thought, they might get married.

But then, slowly, something began to change. The man acted more and more distant from the woman. This went on for several months. The woman did not understand why things were different, and the man had a hard time explaining to the woman why he was acting so strangely.

“Why are you acting this way?” she would ask him.

“I don’t know,” the man said. “Do you not love me anymore?” she’d ask.

“No, I do love you,” the man would say. “But something is not right.”

“What’s not right?” the woman would inquire.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” the man would say.

And so their conversations went. And so they both remained confused and frustrated - neither being able to communicate effectively.

Even though the man was not especially good at verbally expressing the true feelings he felt deep down inside, he found that his point was better received when he was able to devise an analogy to explain his feelings.

So one day he sat the woman down and told her this: “Our relationship is like a house,” he started. “And we’ve built it ourselves. Over the years, the house has become big and strong and beautiful. It’s a great house. But then one day we realize that the house was built on a fault line. The fault line makes the structure of the house unstable - it could come crashing down at any moment.”

The woman sat there silent for a moment, thinking about what the man had told her. Suddenly it all made sense. The house (their relationship) was strong, but the foundation is was built on was not. The fault line was the emotional issues that the man had coming into the relationship and never bothered to fix before he began building a “house” with her.

The man continued, “If we would could pick the house up, intact, and move it over just a few feet, maybe everything would be OK.”

But that’s the funny thing about fault lines - even if you move your house over a few feet, an earthquake can still come and turn your lovely dwelling into a pile of rubble. And in the end, the fault line their relationship was built on proved to be too much for the couple to survive.

However, the woman was only able to understand the inner workings of the man when he explained himself through this particular analogy. And there’s something to be learned from that.

“Using analogies or metaphors is a common way that people communicate,” says Tanya Schwartz, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and immediate past president of the Hawaii Psychological Association. “The metaphor is a way of explaining our inner world by using symbols and images people can relate to. Sometimes it’s hard to express how you truly feel when there are limited words to choose from to express emotions.”

Schwartz says that metaphors or analogies are like personal poetry. This poetry, in a way, captures more depth of feeling.

“Analogies and metaphors help explain experience in a very personalized way,” says Schwartz. “You focus in on images, senses and ideas, and it helps give you insight into that person’s unique way of experiencing the world.”

Schwartz adds that it is actually a very important tool for empathy-building and is a great way of getting to know yourself.

Other friends of mine have weathered the problems of their relationships through metaphors and analogies as well.

Sara understood her exboyfriend’s inability to “just be friends” when he explained it was like he had been the CEO of a big company (as her boyfriend) but when she broke up with him and said she wanted his friendship only, it was if he had been demoted to mailroom clerk of the organization he founded.

And then there was Lucy, whose boyfriend explained that noticing beautiful women walking by was like him noticing a hotrod car. It was pretty to look at, but not threatening at all because he’d still rather be driving his old Subaru any day of week. The analogy helped Lucy understand, but her boyfriend, Lance, got firm scoldings for referring to Lucy as the “old Subaru.”

three star

Dear readers: I am asking for your opinions on an upcoming column. I’d like to know, in two sentences or less, what is your definition of a “REAL man”? Ladies, this is mostly for you to answer, but men, feel free to add your own thoughts as well. Also include your first name only and age.

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