Relationship advice - how to communicate when we feel upset
This situation demonstrates the most common challenge we all must meet. We have very little idea how to communicate truthfully and appropriately with one another in the face of strong emotion or upset feelings. Most of us were not taught how to handle our feelings and take responsibility for them. Instead we learned to believe that someone or something other than ourselves was the cause of our upset and that "maturing" involved perfecting our attack and defense strategies. We learned to try to avoid or reduce upset by attempting to control, manipulate, shut down, blame, or fight.
In this particular case, all the anxiety of "will there be enough?" and "am I really deserving?" was brought into awareness by the building of the home. Instead of owning their fear and insecurity, Wayne and Diane attempted to distract themselves from their own inner disturbance and focus on the other's shortcomings. They argued about "facts" when the issue was really about "feelings." They each felt they were not being heard and so they raised their voices and argued endlessly--as if talking louder or longer would result in comprehension and bring the reassurance they were looking for. Happily, Wayne and Diane recognized their failed attempts, truly asked for a better way to live together, and reached out for help. By learning new communication skills and really wanting to value one another, they have made great strides in learning to respect and honor each other, to resolve difficulties when they surface, and to enjoy their beautiful home.
1. Ask your partner to listen. Most people find that a large part of their upset dissipates with the simple act of being acknowledged and given undivided attention. Indicate that you are not looking for advice, solutions, or correction--only to be honored enough to be listened to. Make it clear you wish to speak of how you feel, not what happened. Facts can be disputed, but feelings can not. This allows the mind to become quiet enough to access the wisdom and answers already present. Ask yourself: Do you respect yourself enough to ask for this?
2. Tell the truth about how you feel. Using only "I" statements, indicate how upset you are--angry, sad, humiliated--but do not blame or accuse. Your feelings are your responsibility, no matter how off-track your partner may be. When you stick to stating how you feel, rather than what he or she may have done, you are not attacking that person. This allows the partner to remain open to hearing and empathizing with your pain rather than moving into his/her attack-defense mode. By being courageous enough to reveal how you feel you are actually giving your partner a vote of confidence and they can rise to that expectation.
3. Remember you always have a choice. Even if you forget to employ these principles and resort to the old, unhelpful approaches when you become distressed, you can always change your mind--even mid-sentence--as you realize you do not like this exchange. Being right is not worth it. Ask for a better way to see the situation and your partner; ask to see what is right about both of you. Your relationship is a continual learning process. You get to learn what you are bringing to it and, thus, what you are getting out of it. The window of opportunity is always open.
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