Communicating with our Hearts We must listen to more than words BY: Troy Murphy | April 2015
Exchanging words—by itself—isn’t communication. We confuse exchanging words with communication. We feel something, blurt out sounds—air rattling chords and spewing between the lips; a partner responds and we believe we’ve communicated. We fear openness of true communication so we replace communication with exchanging hot air in destructive patterns. (We communicate, in a way. We communicate we don’t care to listen to what our partner is communicating). The sharp barbs of fear create a barrier that true communication cannot cross. True communication challenges positions, shakes security, and sometimes demands change. We often refuse to receive the message. We don’t want to hear we’ve caused anger, hurt or sadness. Instead of feeling what is being communicated we attack, defend or shut down, partners feel unfelt; and we feel unfairly accused. Each partner is projecting an unreceived message.
During critical years, many children only experience is with limited or broken communications. The child lacking in healthy communication exposure struggles to learn intimate openness in adulthood. Often because of normal grouping of likeness, these children partner with people also handicapped in communication, seeking connection, but clueless to healthy openness. The couple instead of intimacy—sharing and working together—battle to fulfill needs using interactions riddled with defensiveness, manipulations, threats, and projections. These dramatic exchanges cripple connection. Both partners feel unfelt.
Nasty communication stoppers lurk beneath consciousness, creeping into words, showing through facial expressions, impeding connection, effectively dividing, leaving partners feeling unfelt and disconnected. We must identify and eliminate the stoppers to enjoy intimacy; not so simple. We usually overlook our passive-aggressive snipes, defensiveness and subtle attacks. The communication gaps destroying connection have always existed in our environments. They blend unnoticed into every important relationship. We must expertly and actively seek these communication bombs, and only then can we defuse them.
Communicating with mindfulness requires awareness of self. We can’t clearly communicate murky feelings. When we are chaotic, we can’t interact with order. Communications seeks answers to unknown questions. Underlying the words is confusion and frustration. A partner struggling to convey discomfort with unknown origins can still be comforted. Parents with an infant occasionally encounter these confusing communications. The child is insoluble; his diaper is dry, his tummy is full, and he has been burped—but continues to cry. The parent, unfrustrated, holds and comforts the child. With a child, during a sleepless night, this requires emotional strength. But with a romantic partner, where our security wavers, this requires tremendous emotional stability.
Once we identify feelings, knowing the message we wish to convey, we must proceed cautiously. Sharing poignant feelings easily threatens security. We carefully begin with a calm tone at an appropriate time, guarding against deviations from the topic, constantly reassuring connection. Everybody has an emotional threshold, ignoring a partner’s emotional limitations is disastrous. Their flooded system stymies reception and the intended message remains undelivered. Honest communications over a specific incident quickly morphs into attacking character insults. We originally desired to discuss a specific hurt; but this issue gets lost in generalities. The specific triggering event simply segues into the vicious reoccurring argument over power, victimhood, and rightness. The new issue remains uncommunicated and unresolved. Instead of connecting through problem resolution, the aroused emotions from hurtful comments further resentments, planting each partner firmer in their self-righteous interpretations, blaming the partner for the faltering relationship. Each conversation instead of healing wounds inflicts new injury, damaging trust. The relationship proves unsafe or openness. Vulnerability through openness serves no purpose, only painfully abused.
Usually the problem is not singular; both partners must examine their roles on this hurtful merry-go-round. The conversations entail attacks and counterattacks entrenching the partnership into worn out routines. The pattern of communication threatens both partners.
Voicing hurt is difficult. Sharing hurt feelings ignites defensiveness. Criticisms often feel like rejection. Security is disrupted. These corrective conversations dangerously unsettle hope. Actions, facial expressions, and tones expose underlying feelings—even if words are vague. The master must be able to deliver a clear message but also receive these messages.
If communication has been missing, with neither partner artfully expressing hurt for extended time, slowly integrate feelings back into the relationship. A partner previously emotionally bombarded with cutting flogs of their shortcomings, will not welcomingly receive correction because we improve presentation. They will entertain difficult conversations only when we improve connection. We prepare for deeper discussions by strengthening security through genuine appreciation, acceptance and love. John Gottman suggests five positive communications to a single negative one. Negative comments damage closeness; going home becomes dangerous. This applies even when the comments are warranted, a real difference needs to be addressed, or a boundary has been crossed. We eventually must communicate hurts but the success of critical communication depends on the strength of the bonds. Security needs nurturing. No one can weather a constant storm of complaints without replacing and securing the weakening shingles.
Differences don’t dissolve the bonds of a relationship; but the manner we communicate those differences might. Differences are threatening. When we effectively communicate about perceived difference, reassuring with love, the differences become less threatening. We discover partners more willing to accommodate expertly expressed non-accusing feelings. We communicate to create a bond not to force change. A partner can listen without reproach. Important communications will provoke emotions because we mark pivotal moments to be remembered. Often much is at stake. Processing disrupting emotions with calmness maintains essential openness. We’re not repressing the strong emotions but soothing them, allowing openness not to be invaded by fear. When emotions approach our threshold, we must disengage and step away to regain composure. If a partner is reaching their emotional limits, we allow them to disengage. We can’t jam a message into a partner’s flooded neurons.
The goal of communication is for both partners to feel felt and respected; even when opinions remain un-reconciled. ~Troy Murphy