“Communication, intimacy and trust. Three of the most important ingredients that make a relationship last…without these main staples, a couple can stay together but the relationship will end up being hollow, never reaching that deeper meaning that was created specifically for two people in love.” – Elizabeth Bourgeret
An invisible loving “connection” is the heart and soul of every relationship. It can’t be seen or heard; it can only be felt. Though at first this obscure “connection” feels effortless and powerful, over time it becomes strenuous and fragile. Putting forth effort to communicate, especially when conflict arises, is the best way to perform the “duty” each partner has to protect and fortify the connection.
Communication is the vehicle that allows partners to become intimate – head, heart and hormones. We have identified seven steps for communicating during times of conflict.
Sit in her chair (metaphorically). As your partner expresses strong thoughts and feelings, even if you feel attacked, move from your world of thoughts and feelings to that of your partner’s.
- Put your feelings on a shelf. Refrain, during this time, from articulating your own feelings and thoughts, concentrating solely on your partner’s. You’ll have a chance to be heard later.
- Just listen. Encourage your partner to articulate her thoughts and feelings, much as a therapist would. Give your partner the gift of uninterrupted time for free expression of thoughts and feelings.
- Do not agree or disagree. The goal of actively listening is to deeply understand her thoughts and feelings from her point of view, not to judge or evaluate her feelings.
- Validate and affirm your partner’s thinking and feeling. This does not mean agreeing; it means, “I understand that you have these thoughts and feelings and that they are quite real for you.“
- Be curious. Ask questions and be genuinely interested in understanding her world; ask about hurt and fear, which always resides beneath anger.
- Brace yourself. Prepare for your partner’s anger, directed at you. Even if every cell in your body wants to fight or run away, contain this reaction and keep listening.
- Empathize. Your partner will sense that you finally understand, and she is no longer alone with her pain; this moves you closer to what is really “going on” within her.
Now that you have focused on and heard your partner’s perceptions, she must move over to sit in your chair. It’s your turn to be heard, repeating the steps above.
If you each fulfill this duty, a more in depth understanding of yourself, your partner, and the “flow” of the relationship will grow. The “stereotyping” between partners will weaken and past adversaries will be easier to let go of.
With practice you will arrive at that delicate place where trust can begin to grow anew. And thus begins your most powerful work in connecting more deeply. You will find that the very issues that formerly separated the two of you will now serve to unite you.
To Your Relationship,
Lori & Bob