I hope all of you found the last blog post helpful and were able to use some of the suggestions to connect in your relationship. One of the things I find so important about communication is how it can help you in all your relationships: intimate, family, friends and work! As promised, here are the remaining 5 tips. Let me know which ones you find most useful and where you have been applying them!
Keep well and keep talking,
1. Be Clear on How You Are Really Feeling
When we are going through a difficult time in our relationship it is normal to feel many different emotions: sad, hurt, angry, happy, confused, scared, concerned, overwhelmed and more. Our emotions –good and bad–are what allow us to truly connect with others, and as such, it is critical that we learn to express ourselves authentically.
However, learning to talk about emotions in your relationship isn’t always easy. Sometimes our upbringing influences our ability to both know and understand our feelings. Often people are raised without ever being taught how to acknowledge the difficult emotions, let alone share them!
If sharing your feelings and being vulnerable is uncomfortable for you, start with small steps that feel less risky. Share with your partner the positive feelings you have, such as the excitement you experience when you go out on a date together. Or, the closeness you feel when your partner tells you you’re beautiful. Slowly, work towards bringing the more difficult emotions (hurt, sadness, fear) into the conversation.
There are two different types of emotions: Primary Emotions and Secondary Emotions. Primary emotions are what we feel first in response to a situation, before any other emotion or defense mechanism kicks in. Some of the most common primary emotions are: happiness, sadness, hurt, fear, shame.
Secondary emotions are emotions we have in reaction to feeling a primary emotion and often come from a learned experience. Some of the more common Secondary Emotions are: anger, disappointment, and cheerfulness.
Sometimes the transition from a primary emotion to a secondary emotion happens so quickly that we aren’t even aware we felt the primary emotion and only notice the secondary emotion. The reason for this is because we may have learnt or taught ourselves that our primary emotions are too painful to feel, or that they aren’t safe to be expressed. It is therefore easier or safer to feel or express a secondary emotion.
One thing to be clear on, especially during conflict, is to remind yourself to try to express the emotions you are actually feeling, i.e.. the primary emotions. For example, it is common to express anger during conflict even though our primary emotion may be sadness, hurt or even loneliness. When we express our secondary emotions instead of the primary emotion it is difficult for our partners to meet the true need of the core emotion.
Anger, for example, can send the message to our partners that we need space or may cause your partner to want to take space from you. If what you are actually feeling is lonely and want more connection, expressing anger is going to get you the opposite of what you really want.
2. Validate Your Partner’s Stance
Okay let’s be clear here. Validating your partner does not mean indicating your partner is “right” or that you are taking all the responsibility for what is going wrong. Validation, rather, is the process where you communicate to your partner that, if you were seeing things from his/her perspective, , that you can understand how he/she would feel that way.. It is merely an acknowledgment that your partner has a different point of view, and that you can understand that.
The best thing about validating your partner during conflict is that it helps to diffuse the situation almost immediately and can soften your partner’s response. A little validation goes a long way. Before you know it, your conversation can move more easily from tense and uncomfortable to agreeable and productive.
3. Try to Remember, Your Partner is Your Friend, Not Your Enemy
Most of us have had at least one experience during a difficult conversation with our partner where we have said something that we regretted afterward. While it is normal to at times be emotionally reactive during conversations, it doesn’t mean you should allow it to be an acceptable way to relate to one another.
Self-awareness is really important in these situations. Before, and during, conflict, it is important to step back, take deep breaths and try to remember that you are in this relationship together (even if it doesn’t always feel that way). By slipping into insults, name calling and criticism, you are hurting the person that you love and harming the thing that can bring you great joyyour relationship. If you remember to start with the positive things you cherish about your partner, as mentioned above, it will help make it easier to refrain from attacking your partner.
We all make mistakes and, unfortunately, we all do damage to our relationship at times. That’s okay, as it’s what makes us human. The important thing is to take responsibility for these mistakes and make up for them. There is an art to apologizingthat is helpful to learn if you want your partner to take your apology seriously and thus, have a positive and healing impact on your relationship.
Healthy apologies include the following steps:
- apologize by acknowledging the pain that you caused the other person
- acknowledge the actions you took that caused the damage
- assure them that you will do your best never to do it again.
Note: Sometimes there are things that we do that even the best apologies can’t fix without help. In this case, ask for support from a professional counsellor. A counsellor can help you and your partner make sense of what happened so that you can heal and get back on track.
5. Show Gratitude and Appreciation
Healthy conflict is a normal part of a relationship**. It allows you to grow together and provides a place where you can have your needs met as you continue to evolve as individuals and as a couple. Be sure to show your appreciation to your partner for showing up in the relationship and for wanting it to grow. After all, some things are worth fighting for. Showing your gratitude and appreciation for your partner will leave you both feeling willing and excited to tackle whatever continues to come your way!