“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

-James Baldwin

 

 

Not often enough is each of us asked, “What’s it like moving through the world as you?” We are not often asked about our fears and insecurities, hopes, frustrations, and about what makes us feel alive. We are not often asked about what we’re thinking, what we’re wondering about, or if we’re worried.

 

Some of us experience racism and homophobia. Some of us experience ableism or transphobia or sexism or classism or ageism.

 

Some of us suffer from depression, crippling anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms, chronic pain, or addiction. Some of us are navigating the complicated mourning process and feeling what can only be described as unyielding fragility. Some of us are numb.

 

All of us are grappling with something- marital problems, financial instability, a terminally ill child, a best friend dead from aggressive cancer, panic about the future, historical or intergenerational trauma, chronic mental or physical illness, a break-up, discrimination, sexual harassment, the aging process, our own inexorable thoughts.

 

I get the pleasure and honor of creating a space for people to sit down and tell me about what it’s like for them as they move through the world. I get to see couples learn, for the first time, in a deeper way what it’s like for their partners to be them. I have made a career out of witnessing what happens when people speak honestly and listen compassionately.

 

Not everyone has the privilege of making this their daily life, and I’d like to help make it as accessible as possible. It’s the act of intelligently tuning into our own experience and seeing what’s there. It’s the act of deepening our understanding of ourselves and another.

 

When we become attuned to and present with our pain, we can tune into and be present with another’s pain. The reverse is also true, that when we are present with and attuned to another’s pain we can also be present with our own. We are complex creatures, capable of many things, some being empathy and compassion.

 

When we open space for ourselves to be present and attuned, it’s easier to listen to what is really being said. It’s easier to see someone for who they are instead of our projection of them.

 

We can’t do this all the time, but we can do it more often. We can slow down and drop in.

 

Someone recently recommended to me Patton Oswalt’s “Annihilation” performance. In it, he talks about his late wife, writer Michelle McNamara, and her belief system. He quotes her as saying, “It’s chaos. Be kind.”

 

There is chaos. And there is kindness.

 

I wonder, what’s it like moving through the world as you?

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

How to Get What You Want in a Disagreement

How to Get What You Want in a Disagreement

At some point, most of us have a hard time letting someone have their feelings. When someone is mad at us or sad about something we’ve done or said, we feel uncomfortable. We get defensive (“That’s not what I meant!”), aggressive (“Ugh, you always do this! Whatever. You don’t need to get upset about it.”), or we try to clean it up by backtracking.

 

When we react to the I-don’t-like-the-way-I-feel-when-you-feel-the-way-you-feel feeling, it usually doesn’t help the situation, right? The other person experiences our efforts as invalidating and self-serving (and they’re right). Everyone gets more upset, and we cause more hurt.

 

So, what can we do? Instead of trying to control how someone feels, instead of trying to control the way they interpret our actions and words, we can show respect and dignity to the other person and their experience while taking care of our feelings about their feelings.

 

This requires:

 

  • Curiosity about the other person’s experience
  • Presence, both with ourselves and with the other
  • Self-compassion for our own experience

 

When we’re employing curiosity, it’s important that the curiosity be as genuine as possible (or at least the wish for it). We’re not looking for ways in which we think they misunderstood us or for an in somewhere. We want to understand their experience. We want to know what they heard and saw and felt.

 

Engaging our presence will help us keep our reactivity to a minimum and provide a solid foundation for the conversation. It’s a great way to soothe ourselves in a moment of upset and show up emotionally and cognitively for the other person (and for any difficult situation).

 

Using self-compassion is helpful for something like this because it helps stabilize us and our need to make sure we’re ok with the other person. It gives us what we are looking for, the knowledge that we are ok, right from the source- ourselves. Often, the reason why we go on the defensive/offensive or try to convince the other person out of their feelings is that we need validation that we’re ok. But when we try to feel ok using those tactics we invalidate the other person. Then, there are two people who feel invalidated and are putting their needs on each other.

 

Managing conflict isn’t easy, and relational discord feels bad. Often, we are challenged by our need to be right and our need to maintain peace in the relationship. Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes we’re wrong. Ultimately, what matters is our ability to validate our own experience and our desire to see and hear the other person. Because many of our experiences will not be shared, it is important for us to be able to validate ourselves and respect other people’s perspectives.

 

The more curious we are about others’ experiences, the more likely it is that we will come to an understanding. If I’m busy trying to talk someone out of their anger, I probably won’t hear their need to feel respected. I probably won’t hear that they experienced me as belittling, that they felt insignificant and small. Chances are, we’ll keep rolling around in the same cycle because we’ll both keep triggering each other and waiting for the other to back down.

 

We will not always do this. I don’t always do this. There are plenty of times when I find myself acting defensively because I don’t like the way I feel when someone else feels the way they feel. But it’s less often. The more I practice taking care of myself and giving someone space for their own experience, the more I feel like it’s my natural primary response.

 

If you’d like to know more about managing conflict, please email or call me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

Humans are wired for anger. It’s an important part of our evolution. Anger tells us when something needs our attention, when we have an unmet need, or when something is missing. The problem with anger is in our mismanagement of it. And it can be incredibly destructive.

 

The best way to curb the destruction caused by anger and to use it more intelligently is to understand the feeling, to be curious about it. The more we understand our triggers and patterns, the more present we can be with our anger.

 

Start by identifying what activates it. Get a pen and paper and answer these questions.

 

What triggers your anger? (Here are some common ones)

-yelling

-loud sounds

-having to wait (for someone, for something to happen)

-receiving critical feedback or being corrected

-deceit

-when someone talks over or interrupts you

-being/feeling avoided

-being/feeling smothered

-being in conflict with someone

-rudeness

-inconsiderate actions/remarks

 

Then, start thinking about your pattern of anger. Once your wire is tripped, how do you react?

 

What’s your typical expression of anger?

-lashing out directly at someone, yelling, attacking

-passive aggression, withholding affection/love, trying to control someone using emotional manipulation/guilting, off-handed comments, gossip, isolating

-blame, resentment

-avoidance, defensiveness, stonewalling

-punishing, intimidating, judgment, criticizing, contempt, threatening, using ultimatums

-revenge

-throwing things, breaking things

-physical violence

-broken promises

 

What’s it like for you when you engage any of these strategies? Does it get the job done/ get your needs met? At what cost? Do you like yourself when you use these strategies?  

 

What unmet need underlies your anger-trigger?

Here are some common needs that when unmet, cause us to feel anger:

-Feeling disrespected/ need to feel respected

-Feeling invalidated/ need to feel validated

-Feeling scared or unsafe/ need to feel safe

-Feeling abandoned (physically or emotionally)/ need to feel continuity of relationship or proximity

-Feeling or being out of control/ need to feel in control

-Feeling worthless/ need to feel worthy

-Feeling unlovable/ need to feel lovable

-Feeling inadequate/ need to feel adequate or good enough

-Feeling mistrusted/ need to feel trusted

-Feeling wronged/ need to be treated justly

 

When we stay caught in anger, we behave regrettably. We have no idea what our unmet need is. And we don’t even care; all we know is that something has pissed us off and whoever or whatever it is needs to pay. We can go so far off the rails that we forget we love the person with whom we’re angry. When we don’t know how our anger works and it just happens to us, we can’t catch it, pause, and redirect ourselves. Left uninvestigated, anger can kill or deeply wound any relationship.

 

It’s not easy to respond wisely to our anger. I know that. We run on the fumes of righteous indignation. We feel powerful when we yell or stonewall or manipulate or judge. We’re right, and they’re wrong. If the person really loved us, they wouldn’t do this. Given a choice between fully experiencing our vulnerability or a quick jolt of power, most of us would choose the quick jolt. But learning how to take care of ourselves, translate our anger, and address unmet needs is a much more satisfying, viable, and supportive power. This gives us the opportunity to connect on a deeper level and know true intimacy.

 

“When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.”
-John O’Donohue

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

I’m a huge fan of the TV show, The Office. There’s an episode during which boss, Michael Scott, says something to his employees about wanting to make an announcement. He starts talking and an employee, Oscar Nunez, says, “These aren’t announcements…” Michael says, “Yes, they are; you just don’t care about the information.” And we do this kind of thing all the time with each other.

 

Productive communication is just as much about the way we hear something as it is about the way we say something. I see a lot of couples who try therapy specifically because they want to address the way they communicate with one another. This usually doesn’t mean what they think it means.

 

There are a million ways we send each other messages- by doing something (or not doing something), the way we ask, when we ask, arguing, avoiding arguments, passive-aggressively, literally a million (or more) ways.

 

Most of us think that when our partners accept an idea, think we’re right, or validate our self-concept we’re experiencing “good communication.” If we disagree, argue, or are invalidating of each other’s self-concept we believe we’re experiencing “bad communication.”

 

A breakdown or disturbance in our communication can happen when we don’t like the messages we’re receiving. We stop talking or argue in circles. Sometimes we acquiesce to one another’s demands or plans. We’re still communicating, but it’s become unproductive because we don’t like the information; the messages don’t make us feel good. We try various efforts to get the other person to understand what we are saying. We think, “Well if they really understood what I am saying, they wouldn’t react this way.” Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, though, we just disagree with each other or can’t manage our emotions around conflict, and no amount of rephrasing will change that.

 

What do we do when someone knows exactly what we want, they just don’t want to (or can’t) give it to us? What if one person wants a lot of deep, personal conversation and the other person doesn’t? Or what if what one person thinks is a lot of conversation, the other person thinks of as minimal? Going from here, it wouldn’t be that hard for one partner to feel like the other is emotionally withholding nor for the other partner to feel constantly under attack.

 

Our need for a reflected sense of self is often the culprit. Don’t get me wrong, in the moment it feels great to have someone validate us, our ideas, experiences, and feelings. But we can’t plateau here. The drive for other-validated communication can end up being a relationship killer.

 

Here is an example of other-driven need for validation:

“I want to tell you about myself, and then I want you to understand, validate, and accept me. I’ll tell you about myself and then, to make it equal and to make me feel safe, you have to tell me about yourself regardless of your desire to share. Whatever I disclose, you must make me feel that you are trustworthy and you must disclose something that’s just as revealing, if not more.  This is how we will deepen our intimacy and develop trust.” This is most common. In a dynamic like this, the person who requires less intimacy is the one in control.

 

Here is an example of self-driven validation:

“I want you to know me, to see me, to hear me. I believe that in order for you to really love me, you first have to know me. I know that I am taking a risk by sharing this with you, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take because 1) I want to see the real me and 2) I know that I am capable of taking care of myself in the face of rejection. My sense of safety in this relationship is not dependent on your validation of me.  You don’t have to disclose something to me just because I have disclosed something to you. I acknowledge and accept that we are separate, different people.” This is a lot less common. In this dynamic, control isn’t relevant. It’s about the intimacy and security made possible by self-support.

 

The road from other-validation to self-validation is not short, and it’s not at all easy. Most of us grew up in families where other-validation is the ideal. It’s also pervasive in our greater culture. Self-validated intimacy takes acceptance, self-confrontation, practice, and commitment. We have to be willing to know and accept ourselves first. We have to have a willingness to be curious about ourselves and to face things we don’t like.

 

So what are the benefits of shifting from the aim to be validated by others and the aim to validate ourselves?

 

  • Vulnerability doesn’t have to be a four-letter word anymore.
  • We stop being dependent on an other to make us feel loved and important.
  • We learn that we can disagree without turning it into a knock-down-drag-out fight.
  • We stop taking disagreements personally.
  • We trust ourselves.
  • We break free from feeling controlled by someone else.
  • We stop having the kind of conflict that ruins our whole day or week.
  • We get to know the other for who they are, not for the role we need them to play.

 

 

Changing communication patterns isn’t always about empathy, active listening, acceptance, and reciprocity. Those are great skills to have, but they won’t necessarily bring your relationship back from the brink. If you can bring yourself back from the brink, your relationship has a better chance.

 

“Communication is no assurance of intimacy if you can’t stand the message.”
-David Schnarch, Ph.D.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

What We Want:

We all long for fulfilling, stable, and safe connections to others. We want to be understood and hope for people to experience us as we experience ourselves. We long for someone who will take care of us and reassure us that everything will be ok. We want to feel held and contained. We want our rage and defiance to be tolerated. We want to feel that someone understands our experiences of the world and we want those our feelings about those experiences to either be validated or soothed.

Why That’s Challenging:

We will often be misunderstood by and misunderstand others.

We don’t always know how to tolerate someone else’s rage and defiance. Some of us were taught that rage and defiance are intolerable and unacceptable. We were taught that in order to be lovable we had to be “good” which meant being pleasing and accommodating.

We all have some degree of self-idealization, over-inflation of certain qualities and that is often in conflict with a) others’ self-idealization and b) others’ self-concepts. It gets in the way. I might think of myself as a smart, fantastic listener and you might consider yourself a smart, effective communicator. If we come across a misunderstanding or a fair amount of tension during an encounter in our relationship, depending on how psychologically flexible we are, both of us might jump to the conclusion that the other is not as smart as they think they are or not a great listener/communicator.

We are a complex constellation of inner experiences and reduced to words as a means of communication.

Some of us have been deeply hurt by intimacy. Some of us respond to this wound by avoiding intimacy. Others respond by developing a preoccupation with it. Depending on the experiences endured in childhood, we might view safety as either boring, untrustworthy, or elusive. (And plenty of people would say that safety is downright illusory.)

A lot of us don’t know how to manage our own difficult emotions, let alone tolerate high emotionality in others.

What We Can Do:

 We can begin by learning to accept that we are never going to be completely understood by nor completely understand others. Having some understanding can be enough.

At any moment, we can slow down and label what is happening to give us space from the immediate interpretations calculated by our brains.

We can look at our expectations.

We can start to be more curious about which narratives we’re living by that aren’t serving us.

We can remind ourselves that, at the core, what we want from others is often what they want from us and that we might define this differently.

We can learn to balance between our attunement to others’ needs and our own.

Listening is an ineffably effective tool. When we’re willing to listen to ourselves and others we create an open, stable environment. Listening allows us to contact an experience on a deeper level and then make choices that are more in alignment with what is needed.

As always, none of this exhaustive but it’s off to a good start. Happy relating!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

A lot of couples seek therapy looking for help with their communication. They want to feel seen, heard, and understood. Pretty much all of us want to feel this.

 

Often, what ends up happening is a lot of talking and explaining and scrambling but not a lot of listening. We want to be heard before we hear. We want to be seen before we see. It becomes a rigid bartering system with the understanding that “If you listen to me and understand what I’m saying, I’ll listen to you and try to understand what you’re saying.”

 

And it’s understandable. When an intimate relationship is fraught with miscommunication and misunderstanding, there are wounds. There is pain. Most of us don’t know how to navigate our pain and the pain we’ve caused our loved ones. We are defensive when confronted and quick to point out what the other has done to hurt us. It’s hard to forge ahead together with this strategy.

 

If we’re unsure of how to navigate our hurt, we usually use anger as a secondary emotion. During an intense discussion or argument, we become angry enough that we forget we love the other person. Our stance becomes adversarial, and in a minute we say something deliberately hurtful. This kind of defense amplifies our communication problem and is a devastating hit to emotional intimacy.

 

In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to slow down. It goes against everything our nervous systems are telling us to try hear and see the other person’s experience. But if we want to deepen and maintain our bonds, we have to learn how.

 

When we’ve experienced trauma, hearing and seeing while regulating our emotions is especially hard. Fatigue, hunger, and loneliness also stack the odds against us.  There are a million reasons that contribute to the challenge of hearing and seeing. And there is one big reason to keep trying- increased peace and understanding within ourselves and our relationships.

 

To be proficient in inquiry of others’ experience, it’s helpful to start to with ourselves. It’s also helpful to start by being pretty basic about it. Initially, try it when you’re feeling relatively calm. Pause and see what you notice. What’s happening? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you notice in your body? Then, try it when you’re feeling slightly irritated. The more you practice it (or anything), the more available it will be to you when you need it. Eventually, you’ll try this when you are really struggling whether on your own or in relationship. If you’d like to talk more about this or have any questions, feel free to reach out.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Jumpstart Your Compassion

Jumpstart Your Compassion

I talk a lot about compassion on this forum. I’m a big fan. Throughout my years of working in mental health, providing clinical therapy, and immersing myself in the research I’ve come to understand that compassion plays a critical role in our human lives, the way we behave, and how we feel.

 

Buddhists and Buddhist Psychologists define compassion as being made up of two parts- 1) empathy, being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and 2) action, extending your felt sense of empathy to do something about it. I like that. It’s a gentle but clear way of saying, “Don’t just feel for the person. Do something about it.” Feeling and action cause change.

 

There are as many reasons as there are people why it might be challenging to tap into our own compassion. Many of us don’t believe we hold enough power to effect anything worthwhile or sustainable. We feel beaten down, afraid, over-worked, alone, inadequate. Some of us even use denial to medicate our guilt and powerlessness by telling ourselves things like, “Oh, that group is suffering probably because they’ve done something to deserve it,” and “It’s probably not really that bad. Besides, I’ve got my own problems to worry about.”

 

If I cut myself off from feeling empathy because it is accompanied by feelings of sadness and guilt, it means that I am out of integrity with myself. If I am out of integrity with myself, that means I invite a whole treasure trove of other hard-to-feel feelings- blame, anger and of course more sadness and guilt. I’ll experience blame and anger because, in the short term, it is easier to get angry and blame someone who is suffering than to feel powerless to help them. It is easier to look down from my high horse on someone who is suffering and have the gall to find a reason as to why their suffering is their fault. This propensity is in all of us. We have all been in situations where we have seen suffering and not extended ourselves. We have all been in situations where we have witnessed injustice and not intervened.

 

In their book, Mindful Compassion, Paul Gilbert and Choden reflect that “Perhaps one of the greatest enemies of compassion is conformity; a preparedness to go along with the way things are, sometimes out of fear, sometimes complacency, and sometimes because we do what our leaders tell us what to do.” It’s hard to act compassionately, especially when our first instinct is to protect ourselves.

 

There are times when it is easier for us to feel compassion for others and times when it is easier to feel self-compassion. In those moments when we feel more challenged by finding compassion for others, a good way to jump start it is to practice self-compassion:

 

1) We can identify our feelings and try to define the experience we’re having.

2) We can accept our feelings and the experience we are having.

3) We can acknowledge what connects all beings- the desire to be free, happy, and loved.

4) We can acknowledge compassion that has been extended to us.

 

Like almost everything else, this is about perpetuating patterns. What we practice will continue. What our brains practice will help strengthen those neural pathways creating our neural circuitry.

 

“Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” (Albert Schweitzer)

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Improving Communication to Get What You Want

Improving Communication to Get What You Want

In a relationship, when we have a wish or a need for something to be different, most of us would like to feel that we can speak up, be heard, and see changes. And most of us have at least a few stories to tell about times that didn’t happen. Either we found it difficult to speak up for ourselves, didn’t feel that the other person really heard us, or didn’t experience a change.

It can be scary to speak up for yourself when you need or want something because it leaves you feeling more vulnerable to rejection. Conflict is hard for people to manage for a variety of reasons. By not addressing your needs, though, you’re not avoiding conflict. You still feel those needs. And they are still unmet. That’s a pretty great recipe for resentment. In the short term, it might seem easier not to voice your concerns, not to ask for something to change. The longer you keep quiet, the longer your needs stay unmet and the worse it feels.

So, what can you do to express what you need in a way that someone is likely to hear?

To start, speak in an even, calm tone that conveys respect. Most people won’t readily listen to (or care about) what is being asked of them if you are defensive, condescending, or attacking. A calm, respectful tone helps the listener to feel safer. When someone feels safe, they are much more likely to consider what is being communicated to them. Likewise, by keeping yourself calm, you are more likely to feel confident about what you are saying. When you feel confident, you don’t need to rely on a defensive or condescending tone. Win-win.

Remember I-statements? Use them. Tell me what you think sounds better to you:

A)   “What the hell?! I thought you said you were going to wash the dishes before you went to bed! Why are they still sitting here sixteen hours later?! You had time to play around on your iPad two hours, but you didn’t have time to do the dishes? How many times are we going to have to go through this before you decide to stop being so lazy?!”

B)   “I felt mad and disappointed when I went into the kitchen and saw the dirty dishes still sitting there. When you don’t do something you said you would do, I feel disregarded.”

Would A or B help you feel more receptive to what another person is saying? I guess most people would choose B. Example B doesn’t attack, doesn’t condescend, and clearly communicates the speaker’s experience.

Keep it solution-focused, not problem-focused. Solution-focused identifies strategies to try that would produce an ideal outcome. Problem-focused highlights what went wrong and is a slippery slope on the way to both of you feeling polarized on the subject. Solution-focused says, “Tonight, let’s decide who will cook dinner and who will wash the dishes. Whoever chooses to do dishes will uphold their end of the bargain by washing them before we sit down to watch Modern Family.” By focusing on how you would like the situation to play out, you are keeping a hopeful and positive perspective while addressing what isn’t working. When you focus only on what isn’t working, the other person can feel blamed and criticized.

By using these techniques, you can help create a safer environment for your loved one to hear feedback and foster a dynamic of responsibility and respect.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie             

Sabotaging Your Relationship?

Sabotaging Your Relationship?

What comes to mind when you think of relationship sabotage? Some people think of ways they have sabotaged their relationships while others think of ways they feel others have sabotaged their relationships, maybe a partner (or ex-partner).

There are infinite ways we can sabotage relationships. We can let our suspicions get the better of us. We can let our resentments go unchecked and without productive communication. We can let our fears run wild. The list goes on.

Sometimes we can clearly identify what we’re doing- that we are sabotaging our relationships, how we’re doing it, and why. Other times it might be a bit less clear; we can’t quite see what we are doing and the toll that it’s taking on our relationships. It can feel like things “just don’t work out” or that we’re “meeting the wrong people.”

Now, sometimes that last statement is true. Sometimes we’re unknowingly engaged in patterns of meeting and being attracted to people who are a poor fit for us. This can be one type of sabotage although, what we might be “sabotaging” might not be the relationship itself. Perhaps we are sabotaging the belief that we are capable of having rich and satisfying intimate relationships. Maybe we are sabotaging the hope that we can have what we want. Or maybe we’re trying to beat disappointment to the punch by setting ourselves up for failure right from the start.

That’s not always the case, though. Sometimes we’re in completely well-matched relationships and still experience a lot of pain, turmoil, and struggle. (Whoops. How’d that happen?) These are the times when it’s possible that we’re letting fear, insecurity, suspicion, and resentment take over and poison our relationships. I have met countless couples seeking therapy because they thought that maybe they weren’t the right fit for one another only to find out that they can be great together once they have the right tools.

So, how can we tell the difference? No one wants to end a perfectly good relationship if they don’t have to.

Let’s start with the basics. One of the most important players in a relationship is communication- how you communicate with others and how they communicate with you. This includes empathy, openness, honesty, and taking responsibility for your side of the street. Sometimes there isn’t quite enough of these qualities in a relationship, and the feeling of connection and intimacy takes a pretty big hit. Communication also includes how the two of you attempt to repair wounding in the relationship. Does it seem like both of you can sense when there has been hurt feelings or ruffled feathers? When you each sense that, indeed, there has been, are both of you able to reach out to one another in an attempt to mend the injury? When either of you reaches out, does the other allow that in and accept the attempt?

There are plenty of other important ingredients that go into identifying and maintaining a healthy relationship, but communication is a substantial part of any foundation.

If you have questions or want to talk about your relationship or relationship patterns, give me a call at (415) 794-5243 or email me at natalie@nataliemillsmft.com. I look forward to talking about this with you!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Patterns of Fighting, Arguing, and Conflict

Patterns of Fighting, Arguing, and Conflict

Most of us agree that relationships can be an exceedingly rewarding part of life. Most of us agree that they can also be a lot of work. There are differences to navigate, conflicts to negotiate, and emotions to be aware of and manage. By now, we understand that it takes cooperation, compromise, and empathy to get a stable start to a fruitful relationship.

We make so many choices when we’re in relationship although, sometimes, we’re not aware of what we’ve chosen and why… or that we were given any choice at all. This thread is found in a good number of the issues that couples bring to me. Somewhere along the way, people start feeling stuck.

One of the most common, basic choices we make in relationships is how we respond to one another. We are constantly negotiating offers for connection with others. Here are some ways people respond to one another. See which style is most common in your relationship(s).

The most ideal (because it is most supportive and has the best outcome) is when we accept bids for connection or “turn toward.” This happens when someone asks us a question, makes a comment, displays communicative behavior and we react in a positive way. If someone reaches out to you for a high-five, you high-five them back. If your partner says, “I want to start working out more and eating healthier,” you say something like, “That’s a good idea! I feel better when I do.” People feel more supported in relationships where turning toward one another is a common practice.

Another and less ideal way of responding to another’s attempt at connection is in rejection or “turning against”. This happens when defensiveness, blame, or criticism is used. If you were to respond in this way, it would look something like this:

Them: “I want to start working out more and eating healthier.”

You: “Whatever. You say that all the time and you never do it. You should either do it or stop talking about it.” Couples who practice this generate a lot of hostility and resentment, two qualities that make it tough for a supportive, connected relationship to thrive.

The third way to respond to someone’s bid for connection is ignoring or “turning away.” It happens when one partner meets the other with silence or an unrelated comment/question. This particular pattern is the most destructive and puts couples on a fast track to breaking up. Unresponsiveness breeds resentment, defensiveness, blame, and eventually, hopelessness. An example of turning away would look something like this:

Them: “I want to start working out more and eating healthier.”

You: “…hey, do you remember the name of that guy we ran into last night?”

It could also look like silence while you’re staring at an electronic device or book.

At first, most people try a few more attempts at connecting. Eventually (especially when couples are headed for divorce), people stop making attempts.

Those of you who learned supportive communication skills early in life have lucky companions. For those of you who didn’t learn (or refine) your skills early on, well, you can learn at any age.

Here’s something to try which will promote an increase in turning toward- learning how to listen. There are a few key elements of listening in the most active, positive, supportive way:

-Focus on being interested in and curious about what the other person is saying, feeling, expressing

-Ask questions about what they thinking, feeling, experiencing

-Look for similarities you share with one another (Empathy fast-tracks connection.)

– Give them your undivided attention- don’t try to listen while playing with your phone, reading an article, watching T.V., etc.

-Suspend or let go of your agenda. We can’t listen to the best of our ability when we are preoccupied with our points of argument, feelings, and experiences.

Sometimes executing these things is trying. We might get scared that we’re not going to get our say in the matter or that we’re going to feel taken advantage of or taken for granted. Interestingly, couples who practice turning against and turning away report feeling this way while couples who practice turning toward report a decrease in such feelings.

Relationships can be difficult enough when we are on the same team. They feel nearly impossible when we pit ourselves against one another.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie