Exchanging words—by itself—isn’t communication. People confuse exchanging words with communication to the detriment of their relationships. We feel something, blurt out words—whatever flows between the lips—and then believe we communicated. Fear also serves as a barrier to open communication. Feelings are not fear about our partner’s. These two habits that lie on opposite ends of the spectrum inhibit expressed out of fear. Feelings are essential to communication. The words that escape are often out of tune with the feelings. We either are not in touch with feelings, or afraid of the reaction to open communication.
Many grew up in households with limit or broken communication. A child who grows up lacking exposure to healthy communication will struggle learning intimate openness. The first-step is to recognize broken communication. After recognition, learning the skill of intimacy. Past interactions often were riddled with defensiveness, manipulations, threats, and projections. All these subtle habits cripple effective communication.
These nasty little communication stoppers lurk beneath consciousness. Eliminate the stoppers to open communication and enjoy the subsequent intimacy; not so simple. We usually don’t recognize passive aggressiveness, defensiveness or any of the other inhibitors of openness unless we expertly and actively seek them.
Mindfulness of communication requires identifying feeling; then convey those feelings in a non-threatening manner. We have to constantly guard for deviations. The topic of discussion easily transitions into nasty character insults. We desire to communicate an important issue; but this issue gets lost. The true issue gets dismissed when the reoccurring unsolved argument resumes. The never-ending discussion over power, victimhood, and rightness. The new issue remains uncommunicated and unresolved. Aroused emotions from character assassinating, blaming, and hurtful comments become part of the relationship landscape. Instead of the conversation healing wounds, new wounds are inflicted. The bruised feelings further damage trust. The relationship doesn’t provide a safety zone for openness. The shared vulnerability proves painful.
Both partners work towards this openness. Usually the problem is not singular--one partner soft and loving and while the other is demeaning and demanding. The communication threats both partners. Communication skills doesn’t immediately solve a broken relationship.
Voicing hurt is difficult. Sharing hurt feelings ignites defensiveness. Criticisms feel like rejection. Security is disrupted. These conversations dangerously unsettle hope. Actions, facial expressions, and tones exposes underlying feelings—even if our words are concealing. For example, I may voice forgiveness and understanding but communicate hurt. Until we accurately identify hurt feelings, the cause remains unaddressed. Working on hurt feelings is a team effort.
All relationships have differences. Relationship issues are magnified through insecurity. Even with a foundation of security, we need to skillfully and softly share feelings of hurt triggered by a partner. Learning how and when to share feelings is essential for successful communication.
What’s our partner’s feelings? Are they also unskilled at this process? If communication has been missing, neither partner will be prepared for expression of hurt. Slowly test the waters. Prepare the relationship for deeper discussions by enhancing security through regular communicating appreciations, acceptance and love. Relationship guru John Gottman suggests five positive communications to a single negative. Negative communication drains the relationship. Hurts need to be communicated but those communications come at a cost. Differences don’t dissolve the bonds of a relationship. Differences are inevitable. How we communicate them either dissolves or strengthens the bonds of the relationship. Differences are threatening. When we effectively communicate these differences become less threatening. We discover that partners accommodate expertly expressed feelings because they don’t feel like the suspect in a gruesome crime. Important communication will still provoke emotions. Processing disrupting emotions is essential. We must effectively soothe emotions and disengage from discussions that are too taxing.
Remember communication skills may lesson conflict with pathological problems but can’t cure pathologies. Sometimes the issues preventing intimacy lie deep in biology. But with healthier communication skills—for most, greater intimacy can be enjoyed.
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