No one I think, can be in any doubt that AI and tools like ChatGPT are set to revolutionise our lives, and the ways we communicate with each other over the coming years. A friend of mine was struggling to write a few paragraphs about a club he is a member of with the aim of recruiting others to join it. He fed ChatGPT with the key information about the club and its ethos and within seconds he had just what he wanted. ChatGPT had answered his communication problems.
But what will this mean for relationships and the ways in which we communicate with each other? It’s one thing to be able to generate a perfect love letter (in a former generation you might have paid someone to do that for you) but how can you learn to build a relationship with someone else?
Here at Coupleworks we spend a great deal of time working with couples whose ability to communicate with each other effectively has run into the sand. The problem that presents in the consulting room can be a variety of things, including sexual issues, but as we explore together and as the layers of dissatisfaction peel away, poor communication is often a significant factor contributing to the distance and breakdown in the relationship.
Some years ago I think of a TV drama which captured this dilemma very accurately. A couple had a child who had been identified as having special educational needs. In talking with her brother-in-law the mother asked him whether they should get a second opinion. But, as he pointed out to her, she wasn’t actually asking a question. She had already made her decision and what she wanted was for him to agree with her.
All of us I suspect can think of situations where we’ve been looking for that kind of affirmation – or equally of ones where someone else has wanted us to affirm what they had decided on already. In most cases we can recognise that this is just part of life. We may point it out or we may just go along with it.
Where deeper problems emerge is where this mode of non-communication – ‘questions’ that aren’t questions but are statements of intent – becomes a standard pattern within a relationship.
‘Where shall we go this Christmas? Your family or mine?’ Can be a genuinely open ended question, or it may be said in such a way that only one answer is, in effect, being allowed. If that sort of non-question continues time and again then the net result will be to make a person feel that they are being treated as though their opinion does not matter, and that they are being continuously belittled. Sex is more than likely to suffer as a result.
One of the great strengths of AI lies in its ability to learn – and the same is true in human relationships. For couples who are stuck I find that the following tips can really help. I know I have used them before but they are always worth remembering.
- Learn to ask genuine questions – ones where a decision has not already been made in your own mind. Be curious about what is on your partner’s mind.
If you have a preference then be open and honest about it. Check with yourself whether you are really asking for an opinion or whether you are hoping that your partner will simply agree with you.
3. Listen to your partner and encourage them to be honest too.
4. Don’t be afraid of disagreement or difference – such things lie at the centre of any healthy relationship.
5. When you catch yourself asking a non-question (or when it’s pointed out that that’s what you are doing) don’t be afraid to acknowledge it, and to laugh at yourself.
Whatever changes and challenges AI may bring in the future, clear, honest and accurate communication will, I believe, always be essential to healthy relationships, and often that begins by being open and genuine in the questions we ask of each other.