Do The Relationship Math:
Having Conflicts + Poor Communication + Feeling Hopeless it Will Change = Zero Chance of Having a Rich and Fulfilling Relationship!
Look..I'm not going to sugarcoat the real challenges in relationships by dangling a bunch of pretty-sounding happily-ever-after ideals that you can do in 5 minutes.
I am, though, going to honestly share what I've learned from personal experience and years of coaching hundreds of couples.
Whatever solutions I do offer, please be forewarned: they will not be instant microwavable transformation-in-a-box solutions. They might be uncomfortable to hear, and will take time and require effort to implement, but ultimately...they'll be worth the investment when you begin to experience being listened to, while enjoying the ease that comes with a deeper connection in your relationship.
Are you up for the challenge?
First, I want to offer you some understanding about how ineffective communication gets stacked up in layers and feeds an ongoing conflict loop. I'll tease these apart into understandable layers and then share some REALISTIC things you can do to break out of this cycle. Okay, here we go...
The Three Layers of Ineffective Communication. How They Drain The Loving Connection From Your Relationship
Take a moment to think back to any conflict, issue, or problem you had with your partner. Did communication between the two of you play a major role either as the a contributing cause of the problem or the inability to resolve it? I bet it did.
If your partner communicated in harsh ways, I'm guessing you felt hurt, anger, or fear because you wanted to be spoken to in a more respectful way. Perhaps you then responded to this with anger or shut down.
If you have communicated in harsh ways, afterwards, you might have felt disappointed, guilty or even go into self blame. You get upset at yourself for saying things you regretted. Your partner either responds to this with anger or shuts down.
So the WAY you communicate with each other in conflict is one layer of conflict itself!
Whether it's you or your partner that spoke harshly, whatever issues or problems you were discussing will not get resolved at all or will not get resolution in a way that both can feel good about. That's the second layer.
There was a time when I couldn't effectively resolve conflict, resentments started to build up in me. When conflicts didn't change, I gave up by shutting down emotionally and I pretended like it didn't matter. As much as I tried to pretend, I couldn't help but feel hurt and powerless which came out sideways in the form of blaming anger. This just added to the pile of existing problems.
When there is no effective way to resolve conflict, it is only a matter of time before couples begin to feel hopeless that things can be different. They either keep fighting the same fight over and over again, or silently endure while running on the fumes of hope that something is going to change. This is the third devastating layer.
Add these three layers up and do the relationship math:
Having issues or conflicts in a relationship plus...
not being able to communicate about them effectively plus...
feeling powerless to change them or hopeless that they will change, equals
zero chance of you having a rich and fulfilling relationship.
What I'm describing to you here could happen quickly where couples lock horns early in the relationship or it could happen slowly, imperceptibly over many years with one small resentment at a time. Whether fast or slow, I hope you can see that ongoing ineffective communication keeps you from getting what you truly want...and that is just not sustainable in my book.
Why? Because this layered effect can happen with any one or all of the important issues below and be a constant source of ongoing resentment.
- Money Issues (How much is made and spent, who spends it on what)
- Sexual Differences (frequency, ways to satisfy, decreases in sexual desire or drive, and fidelity)
- Communication (not enough, the way it is done)
- Time Spent Together (Amount of time, quality of time, who to spend it with)
- Intimacy Issues (Emotional intimacy, availability differences )
- Lack of Commitment (follow through with agreements)
- Children and Step Children Issues (how to raise)
- Unequal Need Fulfillment (One partner getting all their needs met at the expense of their partner)
- Jealously and Control Issues (insecurities)
- Household Chores (who does what, fairness)
- Families and In-laws (conflicts, personalities,etc)
Can you imagine feeling powerless or hopeless to be heard or understood with any of the issues above? Believe me, it just isn't workable. Obviously ineffective communication can wreak havoc in many areas of a relationship.
So what do we do?
Well, I've come up with five crucial awarenesses that will transform the communication in your relationship where you"ll be able to resolve conflicts and stay connected. Whether you take advantage of the courses I offer or not, I truly wish you take these to heart and support yourself in doing something different.
Five Crucial Awarenesses That Will Transform Your Communication
1) Learn to speak from a new level of communication so you are not caught in the futility of trying to solve the problem at the same level it was created.
Have you ever read the Einstein quote about how futile is it to try to solve a problem from the same level in which it was created? I believe his quote applies to ineffective communication.
When we use language habits that reside in what I call the right/wrong framework, it can create conflict in our relationships. When we try to solve those conflicts, we use the same right/wrong framework, which doesn't work and makes things worse.
I realize this is all a bit philosophical, so let's review a specific example of how we habitually respond out of the right/wrong framework.
Have you ever caught yourself making judgments directed at your partner about an issue? Whatever it was that you wanted that you were not getting, I'm guessing your partner didn't feel inspired to want to give it to you after hearing your judgments. After your partner didn't give you what you wanted, you probably made even more right/wrong judgments about your partner.
This is is an example of operating out of the right/wrong framework which blocks the flow of compassion.
Upon becoming aware of your judgments and critical comments, you might start judging yourself over judging your partner. Maybe you judge yourself as being a "judgmental" or "critical" person. You possibly do this to inspire yourself to change and communicate differently with your partner. Also not very inspiring, right?
This too is trying to solve the problem at the same level in which is created.
So how do we get around this?
Well, according to Einstein we need to discover a new level from which to solve this problem. (I bet you never imagined getting relationship advice from Einstein…yikes!)
The new level I support people to discover is the compassionate framework. It operates out of a different set of principles. Instead of judging others and assessing the wrongness or rightness of something, you learn share from your own experience...what it is you were wanting and not getting.
This compassionate framework operates off the principle that maintaining a compassionate connection between you and your partner, even when in conflict, leads to mutually satisfying solutions.
I remember when I first started bumbling around trying to speak using this compassionate framework. It was frustrating at first. It takes practice to get the hang of this framework and it can be pretty messy as you transition to a new framework.
Our judgments of others and ourselves are deeply ingrained. Like fish in water, we swim in a sea of judgments never knowing there is compassionate land out beyond this sea.
As I'm coaching couples to experience this compassionate terrain, I often see them slip back into the old right/wrong level and not even know it, that's part of the learning curve. Having a competent coach to gently guide you along the way accelerates your learning and prevents you from wasting time practicing in an ineffective ways.
Adopting this new compassionate framework will get you off the hamster wheel, keep you from shooting yourself in the foot, and liberate you from the futility of trying to solve a problem from the same level in which it was created.
2) Become aware of the unconscious communication habits that block compassionate connections.
Many of the ways we respond to each other in relationships can be very disconnecting and we don't even know it! Even though we have good intentions our unconscious conditioning gets the best of us. We unwittingly block the flow of compassion between our selves and our partners.
So part of the challenge of learning a new Level of communication is becoming aware of ways we are responding out of our conditioning and using that as a launching pad to learn to do something differently. Let's look at an example.
Suppose you feel upset by something a relative said to you at a gathering. You begin to speak with your partner about this upset and want to be heard, understood and would appreciate some empathy about your upset.
Instead, your well intentioned partner gets out the toolbox and begins to fix you up by offering solutions, advise or telling you why you shouldn't feel this way. Not the support you were hoping for, right? Your partner's response is blocking the flow of compassion, understanding and empathy you were wanting.
In this case, your partner could learn a new level of communication by becoming aware of his/her conditioned response and use such awareness to learn to do something differently, like empathize. And you would become aware of how to clearly articulate to your partner the ways you want to be listen to. You would share precisely how your partner could listen that would feel supportive to you.
By week 3 of the 8 week course, you will become aware of your own conditioning and begin learning to speak and respond in more compassionate connecting ways with your partner.
3) Transcend your blind spots by considering the way you contribute to the ineffective communication.
Couples tend to focus on what the other person is doing and turn a blind eye to how they are contributing to the very communication problem that is so frustrating for them.
Maybe you express yourself in a demanding way?
Perhaps you're critical of your partner making it hard for your partner to listen or respond?
Or, it's possible you don't express what you want at all but expect him/her to know what your want?
Maybe there is intense fear about asking for what you want because you equate that with selfishness or neediness?
Maybe you don't speak up because, when you do, it cause conflict and you don't want to rock the boat.
Maybe you have years of pent up frustration and there is emotional intensity that is getting in the way of calm communication.
Maybe you shut down when hearing your partner being demanding. The more you don't respond, the more your partner will escalate the demanding tone. Is there a different way to respond differently in this situation? Yes!
Maybe you take many things personally and you hear your partner often saying, "that's not what I said!" Is there a different way to listen? Yes!
For me, I was blind to how I often analyze my partner with my psychological labels in a conflict under the guise of truth-telling and "helping" her. Needless to say that infuriated her. I finally saw this blind spot in my communication and worked hard to speak differently.
Therefore, when I work with couples I encourage them to focus on how they are contributing to ineffective communication even though it seems like it is all the other's fault. This immediately empowers them both to change their contribution which changes the relationship.
Often, couples hear my encouragement to look at their own contribution, and interpret that as I don't think they have valid concerns about their partner's behavior. I do think they have valid concerns and want support them in express those concerns in a way their partner can hear and...it is important to look at one's own contributions to ineffective communication at the same time.
I know one of the things that prevented me from looking at how I contributed to ineffective communication is I interpreted admitting my contribution as being my fault. So whatever your contribution, I would encourage to discover this without blaming yourself and thinking you are wrong or a bad person.
We all have blind spots. The nature of blind spots is we can't see them. We really can not change some aspect of ourselves we are not aware of? So we really need help to bring them into awareness. Two ways you'll be supported with this in the compassionate communication course:
1) A competent coach can gently support you in becoming aware of your subtle or not so subtle ways of blocking effective communication.
2) Just practicing compassionate communication in the way that
I offer in the course will naturally disclose yours and your partner's blind spots. It will become self evident the disconnecting ways you and your partner are communicating and you can do something different which will make a world of difference in all aspects of your relationship.
4) Pulling back from blaming cycle and learning to communicate your needs without blaming.
In all the years I've coached couples, I've never once have seen a couple resolve their differences and conflicts buy determining who is to blame or who is at fault. It's a cat and mouse game that hardly ever results in either person getting what they want or for their conflicts to be resolved.
Here are some of the ways blaming is expressed:
- Judgmentalism, criticizing and fault-finding
- negativism and nagging
- being right at all costs
- attack and defensiveness cycles
- having the same argument over and over and over.
- playing psychologist and analyzing each other
I ask couples, "how are these forms of blaming communication working for you two?"
"Not too well" is the usual response. To which I say, "if you continue blaming each other, do you think given enough time that it will work?" At this point, they usually start see the irrationality of such endeavor. I say, "would you like to learn a new way to communicate?"
I go on to tease apart the blame dynamic: Underneath the blaming language there is some important need that he/she wants met that is not being met. And it is really painful to not have it met. Blaming your partner is an expression of the pain of not getting this need met.
When I blamed my partner, she had a hard time hearing what I wanted, and wasn't inspired to give to me out of the goodness of her heart. The more I blamed, the less likely what I wanted was not going to happen, which stimulated even more anger and blame directed at her.
What I just described is the blame dynamic with just one person. It gets really confusing and volatile when two people are enmeshed in a blaming cycle and push each other's pain buttons. I don't wish that on anyone.
To transcend this blaming cycle, each person can become aware of the need that underlies the blaming context and express that in a way that will inspire the other person to want to meet it.
That takes some time, practice and guidance, but it IS a viable alternative. It is not enough to just say to yourself, "I've got to stop blaming" or to blame yourself for blaming. Replacing this with a more effective alternative is integral to communicating differently.
Often, I find when one person in relationship backs off the blaming and moves into vulnerability, this serves as an invitation to their partner to join them.
Admittedly, it can be risky and scary, but nonetheless a powerful way to cut through the intractable blaming loop. Most effective, though, if both partners back off from blaming.
I often get the question, "does compassionate communication work if only one partner does it?" It is more effective is if both take the course, but not required. You can learn when taking the course to empower yourself to be heard no matter how he/she communicates. That's true empowerment!
5) Acknowledging, Allowing And Navigating Differences in Communication Styles and Values.
Let's face it, sometimes the stereotypes are true that some men are less emotional than women. And this naturally shows up in the way men and women communicate.
Whether it is learned or hardwired makes no difference, the important point is, men and woman sometimes talk PAST each other with their respective styles:
She listens and speaks in a language of emotional connection and he listens and speaks in a language of problem solving.
Not only that, but they automatically silently expect (demand?) the other speak or listen that same way they do and judge them as wrong or at fault when not doing so: "He's so in his head and can't connect with me emotionally," or "She is way too emotional, she needs to just get to the point."
I can't tell you how many problems and conflicts I've seen that arise from this mistaken notion that the other has to be that way we are, or do things the way we do them or they are deemed wrong.
It is not only a gender differences, people differ in the way we process information, perceive things in the world, the values we hold, levels of emotional intelligence, and so on.
There is a powerful way to learn to accept differences while at the same time be proactive in getting what you want and finding solutions that work for both of you. This is easier to do when we abandon the right/wrong framework and adopt the compassionate framework.
Seeing your partner through the lens of the compassionate framework will inspire more tolerance, patience, and understanding for such differences. This leads to more calm, ease and peace in your life...and who doesn't want that?
Here's a summary of the 5 crucial awarenesses to break out of the cycle of ineffective communication.
- Learn To Speak From a New Level of Communication so You are Not Caught in The Futility of Trying to Solve The Problem at The Same Level it Was Created.
- Become Aware of The Unconscious Communication Habits That Block Compassionate Connections
- Transcend Your Blind Spots By Considering The Way You Contribute to The Ineffective Communication.
- Pulling Back From Blaming Cycle And Learning to Communicate Your Needs Without Blaming.
- Acknowledging, Allowing And Peacefully Navigating Differences in Communication Styles and Values.
These 5 awarenesses create the conditions for something new and different to happen in relationship communication. I look at these awarenesses as daily practices, not quick fix solutions. They are powerful ways to actualize a loving connection and have ease in talking about issues and resolving conflict.
If you would like support in building your skills and learning to speak from this compassionate framework, I offer an 8 Week Compassionate Communication Course. It can be taken with a group or you can do it privately.
Compassionate communication is an eight week course that lifts you out your ineffective communication grooves and gives you a new framework from which to communicate so that you experience peace, harmony, and a deeper connection in your relationship.
We give you the tools necessary for you to express honestly what is going on with you, and to connect with what is going on with your partner. We coach you to foster this mutual connection in such a way that many problems are effortlessly and calmly resolved.