Mastering the Art of Communication in Love Relationships
By Zoe DiMele, LCSW
Published June 15, 2017
Most of us think our relationship with the person we married will continue in its honeymoon phase – forever. This is a fantasy. Real life sets in and when it does people’s deeper issues, sensitivities, needs and expectations bubble to the surface. Relationships actually take work. And most people don’t get that training from their parents, who also, through no fault of their own, didn’t understand what good relationship communication looked like and therefore were unable to teach it to their children. This can continue from one generation to the next for centuries! Good relationship communication is a language that must be learned like any other language. If no one teaches it to you, how can you be expected to know how to speak it?
What is necessary for good communication is a desire to hear and a desire to be heard. If you want to be heard, you have to speak in a way that facilitates listening by your spouse. How do you do that? Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Good tenets of communication are:
1. Keep the focus on yourself, not your partner. Make “I” statements like “I feel,” “I need, “I want.”
2. Listen to learn with curiosity and care. This has to be genuine. If you are simply waiting to counter your partner and win the point (and show your spouse how smart and right you are and therefore how stupid and less than you your spouse is), you only create hurt feelings, mistrust and alienation. And, by the way, your sex life is almost always a casualty of this form of communicating. You need to decide what’s more important, winning the point or having a safe and intimate relationship.
3. Reflect back what you hear your partner say; i.e. “So you would like me to go antiquing with you rather than stay home and watch the Super Bowl?” Sometimes when you just say,”I don’t want to go antiquing. I’m staying home to watch the Super Bowl!,” your partner hears, “You don’t care about what I need!”
4. Reflect back what you feel about what you hear without blame or shame; i.e. “I’m just really tired and have been looking forward to the Super Bowl all week. Can we find a compromise? What if I go antiquing with you next weekend?”
5. Empathize with what your partner is feeling. Look for mutuality; i.e. “I have felt that way too. I understand what you must be feeling.”
6. Empathize with what you are experiencing. “I understand what you want. I get why you would want that AND (not but) it makes me feel rejected and sad.”
I will simplify the tenets of ineffective communication because many of them have already been touched upon.
1. The need to be right and win. Instead, think of a desire to hear and be heard.
2. Violent communication. Violent communication constitutes any behavior verbal or non-verbal that is designed to hurt and humiliate your partner, like mocking, yelling, blaming, talking over your spouse, cursing, physical or sexual violence. Believe it or not, nonverbal violence includes things like eye rolling, hand gestures and other body language. Anything that is meant to hurt or demean the other person is violent communication.
In closing, I would like to say that marriage can be a very beautiful, rewarding and difficult experience. Whether it lasts a lifetime or is very brief, the real value of marriage is that it teaches us about ourselves, not the other person. If we truly learn about ourselves through marriage, no matter how long or short, it has been a success!
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Healing, Transformation and Divorce
By Paula S. Gilbert, LMHC
Published April 28, 2017
Human resilience continues to amaze me and demand my humble respect. It is the rule rather than the exception. Think about it: Take out a large piece of paper or the inside of a paper shopping bag and draw a road that represents your life. Along that road draw markers for the times in your life you have experienced a significant loss or change. You may be surprised at how much experience you have with loss. As humans, we have a talent for reformulating our perspective of our world and finding new meaning, over and over again.
There is one caveat, though. None of this new perspective and aliveness can flourish without a grieving process, just as Winter precedes Spring. Dr. John Schneider, whose transformational grief theory informs my work, said that three major questions permeate the healing after loss process. They are: ‘What is lost?’ ‘What remains?’ and ‘What is possible?’ These questions do not represent concrete or sequential phases of grieving. They weave through the process and overlap at any given time. Awareness of what we have lost is an important starting point and evolves over time. This inner work occurs organically at a pace that you can handle. Your system knows exactly how and when to shuttle between raw vulnerability and withdrawal.
Divorce is a significant traumatic loss whether expected or unexpected. One’s personal world is shattered. Basic human needs for certainty and predictability, as well as love and connection suffer a great blow. Identity is disrupted for all involved. The roles we had within marriage and family are now altered.
‘What remains’ asks us to explore our support system, what our still existing dreams and passions are, and what connects us intimately to the Life Force, whether that be meditation, painting, gardening, running, or observing nature. One important aspect of working with a trauma and grief informed therapist is that they will ask you the right questions at the right time, actively listen, and encourage self-expression. Your identity may turn out to be more fluid and multi-faceted than you had imagined. And when you’re ready to dip into ‘What is possible’, a time of exploration and even attempts at once avoided activities, interests and situations may call you.
Most important throughout your journey, and reinforced by a good therapist, is the cultivation of gentleness and self-compassion, especially after indulging in behaviors that may temporarily relieve pain and heartache but don’t serve you in the long run. There is a healthy balance, a midpoint between the denial of loss at one extreme and chronic self-absorption at the other. More and more, you will find yourself coming into balance.
A client of mine (I’ll call her Sue) filed for divorce after enduring the burden of her husband’s alcoholism and self-destructiveness for many years. The couple had two young sons at the time. They had met as teenagers, and to Sue, this partnership was her world, the ground of her everyday life, and her plans for the future. Five years after the divorce, she continues to grow and mature, and is now thriving in her own business. She has raised their two boys with great sensitivity and structure, and their natural gifts are developing. Sue has built a network of friends and has strengthened her family ties and connection to the community.
Through her therapy and her support system, Sue has built personal strength and independence. She has grown well beyond the limitations of who she thought she was. Pain and loss can crack open the mold of our former selves to change our perceptions, and to see life with fresh eyes. Oftentimes, the greater the perceived loss, the greater the possibility to become a whole individual, to grow and transform.
It is my sincere wish that these words may move you to lean into your pain and loss with support and assistance. Although the roles we play: mother, spouse, businessperson, etc. can enrich our lives, they change over time. On a deeper level, you are so much more than any role you play in life. Loss and grief can lead you to a direct experience of your resilience and the great truth of who you are.