I can’t tell you how many times I have individuals who are in a relationship come in and tell me that they don’t know how to communicate to their partner in a way that allows them to really share how they are feeling. When we dive into this, more often then not it isn’t because they don’t know what they are feeling or what to say, its that they don’t know how to communicate it in a way that allows them to feel safe to openly express themselves.
This comes down to two things:
- Communication platforms (as we will call it here)
The truth is, as soon as feelings are involved it increases vulnerability and therefore increases our own defense mechanisms (those things we use to keep ourselves safe). This isn’t just with painful feelings. How many of you have ever had a conversation or a moment with your partner that made your heart feel so full but when it came to telling them that felt shy and scared to say it?
According to Brene Brown, one of the leading experts on vulnerability, only when we expose ourselves to risking ourselves/our hearts, can we experience true connection not only with others but also with ourselves, which allows us to live a wholehearted life. I read that as vulnerability being terribly scary at times and also incredibly necessary.
Where I see couples add to the struggle is by believing there is only one way in which they are allowed to share these overwhelming feelings with their partner.
Take my friend Jess for example. She truly loves her partner but as with any relationship they have struggles that prevent them from seeing eye to eye. She sees huge value in sharing this with him but when she goes to talk to him in person, she can’t seem to find the words. What she discovered was that if she wrote to him she could share how she was feeling and actually express herself. Her partner on the other hand prefers to talk things over in person. What they compromised on was that she could write to him first but that they always talked about it later in person.
This example shows two different communication platforms – writing and talking in person.
Other platforms include setting up certain times in advance to talk. For example a client of mine gets really anxious when she needs to talk about things with her partner. She knows if she doesn’t ask him in advance to set some time aside to talk, she won’t prioritize it, so she usually sends him a text asking if he can let her know when in the next few days he has time to connect over a few things. Still another client I know tends to find he communicates best when him and his wife have these discussions while exercising because having something else to do and other things to focus on (rather then staring at each other across the table) helps him feel less anxious and also more focused. So when they need to talk they usually go for a walk or a hike (an activity that is actually conducive to talking) and work through things that way.
Some people find communicating really easy and don’t ever have to think about how they will talk to their partner about their feelings but more often then not communication can be a tricky thing in relationships. It is absolutely ok (and even healthy for your relationship) to discover what it is that works for you and to use it. There is no one right way to talk things through – what is most important is that you find what works and then you actually do it. Tell me, in your relationship, how do you and your partner best communicate?