Good communication is crucial in relationships. Couples know when their communication is failing, yet they often don’t know what to do about it. Here is one thing that may help.
Most conversational statements are two-part; we say how we feel or act and explain why we feel or act that way. We justify it. For example: “I was tired after working hard.” And when a relationship is going well we might say: “I feel sexy because you look great.” Or “Thanks for supporting me” (I feel grateful because of your support.)
However, when things are going wrong between couples these two-part statements can be problematic: “I was angry because you were late.” “You ignored me so I felt lonely.” “I withdraw because you are critical.” The reason for the negative feeling is being justified by the partner’s behaviour.
This kind of negative two-part statement sets off complex responses. Couples can argue for ever about whether someone is too critical, or whether withdrawing is reasonable, or if feeling angry or lonely is justified and “normal” in the circumstances. So immediately after such a statement, dispute and defensiveness spring to life.
There is an alternative to two-part statements: one-part statements. That is stating feelings only: “I feel angry”. “I felt lonely.” “I feel small today.” Saying only the feeling, like this is very difficult. The speaker must take responsibility for the feeling when he or she often feels it is the partner’s fault. In effect we must say, ‘I own up to feeling this way; this is who I am right now’ – no justification or explanation. Then, because the partner doesn’t feel so blamed, s/he is free to listen, understand and enter dialogue about the feeling. S/he is also in a better position to consider choosing to act differently.
If we stop trying to prove how our partner’s behaviour justified our feeling, we foster a better understanding of what is happening inside us. When our partner is not blamed, s/he can better accept our painful reality. This is the kind of acceptance we often seek from our partners. In its light we can feel sane and human again. Intimate connection can resume.
In the demanding circumstances of relationship troubles, it helps sometimes to take this challenging step of putting aside justifying why you have your feeling in favour of describing it. More one-part statements owning and describing your feeling can be a helpful way to start.
With thanks to:
Getting the Love You Want By H Hendrix,
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