What’s happening with you. You’ve been out of sorts for the last two days. Why don’t you just tell me what’s going on.
Nothing’s wrong. I don’t want to talk about it!
We’ve all been part of this dialogue or something close to it. There’s an opportunity for a conversation that may resolve disconnection, but neither one knows how to initiate that conversation, and the stalemate persists.
Having successful intimate conversations in a relationship is an art and practice.
Even those who may have picked up some communication tools for the workplace, or from self-improvement workshops, won’t necessarily be able to transfer those skills to the type of very personal conversations that happen at home when emotions are running high.
Our conversations with our partner hold a lot of weight. Everyone suffers when communication breaks down at home.
Conflicts with our intimate partners hold challenges like sensitive triggers, painful shared histories, childhood wounding, and a general laziness that couples in long-term relationships slip into when it comes to communication skills – communication skills that we know could be better.
Learning how to listen effectively, speak vulnerably, and step into each other’s shoes long enough to let our defenses down, takes practice and patience.
You’ll need patience with yourself, as you actively interrupt ingrained patterns of conflict that derail successful conversations. You’ll also require patience with your partner as you witness them trying on new ways of expressing themselves in triggered moments.
Communicating effectively with our partner isn’t about converting them to our opinions. It’s not about proving them wrong. It’s not about getting our way.
When I introduce processes that prioritize connection over being ‘right’, couples are often relieved to hear about alternative ways of communicating. Both will readily admit that “what they’re doing isn’t working.”
Here are 4 Steps that will help lead you to feeling heard, understood, and open to solutions that work for everyone.
These are 4 simple steps that make for effective communication in challenging moments:
Step 1- Just the facts:
Take turns describing what happened from an objective perspective.
What happened. What was said? What did you hear?
Example: I heard you say you were going to meet me at 7pm. By the time you arrived it was almost 7:45. You said you’d call if you were going to be late.
Both of you can agree on the facts if they’re free of blaming.
Finding that initial agreement is a good place to start.
Step 2 – Feelings:
After you’ve identified the facts, take turns speaking about what was happening on the inside. What were you feeling? What emotions came up?
Stay away from blaming language, and keep it to your own perceptions. When you speak from your own experience, without blaming your partner, you’ll notice they’ll be much less defended in hearing what you have to say.
Example: When I was waiting for so long I started feeling like I wasn’t important to you. It made me feel sad to question whether that’s true. By the time you arrived, I felt livid, and disappointed that our evening may be ruined because of an argument.
Choosing not to speak in blaming or judging language doesn’t mean suppressing yourself, or diminishing the impact of what happened. You can be honest and vulnerable at the same time. You’re simply taking responsibility for your own feelings and responses.
We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your response to it.”
Step 3 – Going Deeper:
If we feel triggered by an extreme emotion inside of us, it’s often a sign that something deeper is going on. Step 3 requires us to put our victim-thoughts to the side, and consider what’s happening inside on a deeper level. This is where the gold is found.
As we look a little deeper we can ask ourselves questions like. Why is this so important? What am I afraid of? When have I felt like this before? What story am I telling myself?
By asking ourselves these important questions, we step out of our attack mode.
We gain some objectivity and apply some self-empathy, both of which will help you share more deeply.
Example: Feeling respected is important to me. In some of my past relationships, I wasn’t treated well. I promised myself I’d never let that happen again. I realized I was even questioning whether you loved me or not. I felt all of that while I was waiting, even before I found out why you were late.
Sharing our more vulnerable feelings in a challenging moment disarms and deescalates the conflict. Be the first one to drop your weapons, and your partner will take your lead.
Acknowledge each other’s sharing as well as your success in creating new ways of moving through conflict.
Happy couples have arguments. What keeps them happy is, knowing how to move through arguments, and back to secure connection quickly.
Step 4: Agreements
Once you’ve have taken turns with each of these 3 steps, there’s often a feeling of relief. Your breath will become deeper, and your bodies will start to relax.
Ideally both partners feel more understood, and take responsibility in how they may have contributed to the disconnection. Consider how you can learn from what happened, and what you can both do going forward to avoid the same triggered situation.
Make sure both you and your partner come away having made an agreement, whether it’s a change of behavior, or a change of beliefs. When we state our intention out loud together, we share in responsibility to apply the lessons learned.
We learn as we go. That’s the pleasure of being in a relationship that is focused on growth. Every challenge, every conflict holds a lesson that both partners can learn from.
Breaking down challenging conversations into 4 steps that help couple move back into secure connection is a skill that doesn’t happen overnight. But with practice couples can learn how to step out of their defensiveness and ask the right questions of each other and most importantly, themselves.
Our lifetime of negative patterns doesn’t change without practice, but as animals whose brains are highly adaptive, with persistence, change occurs, and relationship are transformed.
Transformations are possible with the help of an objective, professional coach to teach you how to use new communication tools and guide you through the pitfalls that are bound to arise.
Love, sex and desire all depend on strong communication skills.
If you’d like to find out how coaching can transform your relationship, schedule a 15 minute Discovery Call and let’s talk about your goals and challenges.
My female cousin was a primary contributor to my early sex education, when I needed it most. For instance she clarified that I couldn’t get pregnant by dancing with a boy, no matter how close we got. She also confirmed that I wasn’t the only person who touched themselves (down there), and most importantly, she showed me that ‘wellness massagers from Sears were used for things other than sore necks and shoulders. A few years later my boyfriend introduced me to the real deal. A vibrator made specifically for genital arousal. It was a cream colored, hard plastic, shapeless cylinder with a twisting on/off switch at the end.
This week a client told me she was doing a Marie Kondo on her closet. She was getting rid of what no longer gave her joy.
We went on to talk about her sex life with her partner and the nagging resistance she has to being touched.
Somewhere along the line she formed a belief system about touch. She couldn’t identify a particular incident that informed that belief system. There was no trauma or abuse. She just knew that when she was touched (even by her loving partner) her body would recoil and she’d shut down.
There’s no getting away from the fact that couples in long-term relationships impact each other profoundly, in small and large ways. If you’re a couple who live together there are moments throughout each day that bring you together to discuss something, to work on a task, to accomplish an errand, to share a story, or listen to one. Partners flow in and around each other with such symbiosis, that we can sometimes feel like we’re one mechanism with a shared mind.
Even in the midst of this unprecedented time, the holiday season is once again upon us. If you’re fortunate enough to have one or more loved ones around you, you’re probably giving and receiving a gift or two. I’d like to share a few thoughts I have on gifting.