Communication in Relationships
By Susanna Hoare
How we communicate in relationships can be difficult especially if we have not learnt how to express our feelings and needs. Maybe we grew up learning that expressing our feelings was rude and disrespectful. Maybe we learnt that we would hurt the others feelings or that our feelings would be too much. Maybe we learnt that the only way to express ourselves was by shouting.
Learning to express ourselves clearly, truthfully and directly means becoming familiar with some of the ways in which we are not open or avoid closeness.
In order to learn about connecting with one another it is useful to examine the rules we have learned that avoid closeness which you might want to review.
Always say “you” or “it” instead of “I”.
If someone says something personal to you, make a joke about it or laugh.
Talk only about “safe” subjects like current events, sports, or what you have been doing where little personal disclosure is made.
If someone takes a risk with you, ignore it or change the subject. If someone states they like something you did or that they want to get to know you better, do not acknowledge their reaching out to you.
If you like something about someone tell another person instead.
Never talk openly with a family member or close friend about your relationship with him/her especially if you are alone together.
Avoid being alone with another person. Escape any opportunities for closeness.
Don’t disclose any strong feelings of love, caring, loneliness, sadness or fear.
Never acknowledge pain from your past, keep it secret.
Don’t risk being vulnerable or unprotected. If you hear about someone’s vulnerability be sure to gossip about it or store it to use against the person at a later time.
Learning to express ourselves means speaking from the “I”.
So instead of speaking of yourself as a you or one speak about yourself and your experience as I feel …… sad, happy, hurt, frightened, angry.
In this way you are connecting with your experience by saying what you feel and taking responsibility for your feeling.
Suggested way for open and truthful communication
Learning to communicate how another person’s behaviour is affecting us without making blaming “you” statements. A suggested way is ….
I feel . . . . .
When you . . . . .
I want/need . . . .
This is where we start learning to express our emotions in an open and truthful way and is a vital part of the process of owning our emotions.
It is best to use primary feeling words (happy, sad, angry, hurt, frightened) when expressing the “I feel . . . .” part of this formula
I feel frightened when you voice gets louder and your face turns red and you clench your fists.
It makes a difference to say our feelings out loud, and to precede the feeling with “I feel.”
(When we say “I am angry, I’m hurt, etc.” we are stating that the feeling is who we are. Emotions do not define us. They are a form of internal communication that help us to understand ourselves. They are a vital part of our being – as a component of the whole.) This is owning the feeling. It is important to do for ourselves.
By stating the feeling out loud we are affirming that we have a right to feelings. We are affirming it to ourselves – and taking responsibility for owning ourselves and our reality.
It makes a difference to own our own voice. To own our right to speak up for ourselves.
When you . . . . .
The “When you . . .” statement is a description of behavior. It is helpful to actually describe the behavior. To say to another person: when you get angry; when you shame me; or such statements – is too general, not specific enough. These types of general statements do not really describe the behavior – they are our interpretations of the behavior. Making assumptions about the intentions and motives of another person leads to confusion and misunderstanding.
“When your face gets red and your voice gets louder and your hands clench into fists” – is specific and descriptive. It does not assume – rather it describes the behavior that appears to us to indicate anger.
“When you look at me with a frown on your face and your eye brows slightly raised and give a loud sigh” – is a description of behavior that brings up the response inside us of guilt and shame. Usually the other people have no idea of what their behavior looks like.
When we first start to comment on such behavior in a healthy way, the other people will profess innocence and ignorance of what we are talking about. But, by describing the behavior, we will be planting seeds of consciousness in them that may eventually cause them to get more conscious of their communication too.
In learning to communicate in a healthy way, without blame and shame, we are maximizing the possibility of better communication and understanding of our needs and wants.