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

Deepen Your Relationship in Conflict

Deepen Your Relationship in Conflict

A few days ago, I came across various articles warning readers about what not to say to different groups of people- what not to ask women, what not to say to new parents, what not to ask an older male divorcee, what never, ever to ask (fill in the blank). I decided to investigate these articles further so that I might be able to understand the messages. After reading them, it seemed that the message to readers was pretty clear. The authors hoped that their words would preclude people from offending each other, sounding stupid, or both.

Overall, I appreciated this sentiment. I don’t like to see people get their feelings hurt either. But the more I thought about the authors’ collective message, the more I couldn’t help but get the feeling that there might be an even deeper message, a message that communicated danger in being curious.

As a therapist, I see a lot of people who want to learn how to manage conflict in a more productive way so that they can have the relationships, careers, and lives they want. A lot of learning how to manage conflict is a) learning how to manage one’s emotions, b) learning about the language one uses to communicate (and what it says about them), and c) curiosity about another’s experience. We are in conflict in every way, every day. Conflict is simply variation. We all manage (and mismanage) conflict every day, sometimes without realizing it.

When I hear people urging others out there to clam up and not ask specific questions, I hear them asking for people not to communicate their curiosity. It sounds as though they are suggesting that the antidote to conflict is a closed mouth. Of course, that isn’t the intention; I know that. But a lot of relationship wounds happen unintentionally.

Which brings me to… intention. When you are managing conflict, it’s important to pay attention to intention, both your own and another person’s. If another person’s intention is unclear to you, it’s a great idea to ask them. If it seems like they’re trying to make you feel uncomfortable, provoke you, etc., the conversation will probably feel like more of an attack and their questions might feel more threatening or offensive. Most people don’t want to oblige people’s questions when they feel threatened. But what if someone is genuinely curious about your experience? Then how do you feel about questions?

What if the thirty-something single working mom wants you to ask the questions that you have about her life so that she can broaden your understanding, feel a little less isolated, and deepen her connection to you? Obviously, the first step is to ask if you can ask. Second, be respectful and non-critical if she doesn’t want to answer certain questions. I imagine that part of what went into creating these lists of what not to ask who is the notion that there are times when it’s tough to be and feel vulnerable, that we need to respect this in one another.

Take some time right now to think about questions that might be on your “questions never to ask me” list. How did they get on that list? What does it mean to you when someone asks you these questions? Does age, gender, sexuality, privilege, economic status factor in? If so, how? What feeling is evoked when someone asks you or when you think about someone asking you these particular questions? What would you like to avoid by avoiding said questions?

I’m reasonable. I get that it might feel surprising (and maybe a little jarring) to be asked certain questions by strangers or those with whom you are not close, no matter how pure the intention. I’m not advocating for intrusiveness. But it seems like there is a lot of “never ask this!” advice for friends and family and I think it’s such a disservice to intimacy and connection! Most humans want to understand and be understood by one another.

 

Love and Be Loved,

Natalie

How to Compromise in Relationship

How to Compromise in Relationship

Compromise: an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

Think about the idea of compromise for a minute. What role does it play in your relationships? Do you compromise more than another? Does someone else? Is it pretty balanced? Or does it fluctuate?

Sometimes people dig their heels in until the other person, cries, blows up, or storms out of the room. There is a myriad of choices available to us when we think about ways to compromise… and ways to avoid compromise.

Someone can give in to another out of fear or exhaustion (or both). Someone can try to dominate or intimidate or manipulate. Usually, we feel better in our relationships when we find a middle ground.

However you decide to effect your compromise, it is most successful (and feels best) when it doesn’t include sulking, withdrawing, or harboring resentment against the other. If these things are happening, it probably means someone is not being completely honest with themselves about how they feel. When you compromise, it’s not so that either of you has something over the other; that’s not a genuine compromise.

The art of compromise takes willingness, openness, and trust. Making situational concessions within a relationship feels safer when these things have been built into your foundation. Interesting- when we compromise in a relationship with willingness, trust, and openness, we also solidify and strengthen these characteristics. And the more they solidify and strengthen, the less the act of compromise is perceived as a threat.

Here are some questions to think about:

 

1) *Mostly, we make decisions using arguments and yelling. (Yes/N0)

2) Often, I am/we are satisfied with how we resolve our differences. (Yes/No)

3) *I am/ my partner is incredibly stubborn. (Yes/No)

4) I believe/we believe that it is important to share power in a relationship. (Yes/No)

5) I am/they can relinquish partial control when I/they feel strongly about a particular issue. (Yes/No)

6) When we talk through the issue, we can usually find our middle ground. (Yes/No)

7) *One of us usually gives in to the other. We call that compromise. (Yes/No)

8) *If I give in, they do, too. (Yes/No)

9) *After compromising, one or both of us is left holding resentments. (Yes/No)

10) Each of us believes in meeting the other person where they are when we are working toward compromise. (Yes/No)

So, anything come up? If you answered “yes” to one or two of the questions with asterisks, you could probably use some other strategies when reaching a compromise. If you answered “yes” to three or more of the questions with asterisks, you could use some more strategies. If you answered “no” to any of the questions without asterisks, I would love to talk with you about ways that we can fortify your compromise skills.

Compromising isn’t easy, and there are times when we just don’t see any concessions we are willing to make. It doesn’t mean that you’re ill-matched or that you’re headed for divorce. It does say that you need to examine important characteristics, dynamics and wounds in (and sometimes outside of) the relationship. Let’s see what we can do.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

More Tips for Managing Conflict in Relationship

More Tips for Managing Conflict in Relationship

Every so often, I find it useful to review a definition of terms with my clients. The clarification helps to illuminate more understanding (of the client’s self and their experience) and the most relevant strategies for moving forward. It’s a kind of connect-the-dots approach.

With that in mind, let’s review the difference between Compassion, Empathy, and Sympathy. Having Compassion for someone means that you have feelings of sensitivity toward them. It means that you appreciate the person’s experience without understanding and without attempting to understand what they are going through. Having Empathy for someone means that you not only have an appreciation for what someone might be experiencing but that you also understand and identify with what they are going through. If you have Sympathy for someone, it means that you pity or feel sorry them.

Most often, when we are talking about relationship dynamics (any relationship), we hear that Empathy is a rewarding way to interact. It’s pretty clear why so many of us recommend establishing Empathy in relationship. Mutual understanding fosters trust, appreciation, and connectedness between people.

When you approach people, relationships, and experiences with Empathy you create a space of safety and openness. When people experience you as safe and open, they feel more comfortable. They are less likely to feel and act defensively and much more likely to respond to you in a calm and positive way.  (Honestly, who doesn’t want to feel that their experience is appreciated and understood?)

Engaging Compassion is also positively impactful. While it’s not as powerful as Empathy (because it lacks a deeper understanding), it promotes a similar sense of safety within the relationship. I like to think of it as a useful starting point on the way to Empathy.

Sympathy is the least useful emotion since it involves no understanding, no attempt to understand, and no appreciation of an other’s experience. It connotes a kind of unilateral relationship between the sympathizer and the sympathizee. There is not much safety, openness, and connection where there is sympathy or pity. Often, Sympathy can create feelings of resentment in the sympathizee.

When you are feeling Empathic, you have less energy and room for irritability, indifference, and defensiveness. Difficult discussions are smoothed by this empathic, open, and safe space. Whether you are bringing a difficult topic to the discussion table or someone has approached you with something, the more empathy you employ, the more comfortable you will be as you work on the task.

At this point, I usually hear something like, “I need empathy, too. I don’t want to be the only one providing empathy here. What about them?!” And I get it. I don’t like my efforts of Empathy to go unmatched, either. They’re often not.Taking the initiative to create a safe place for connection is almost always reciprocated.

Some people might take a little longer than others to meet you with Empathy. Give it some time. On another hand, being the one to set the tone with Empathy also gives you the freedom and flexibility to try another approach as needed.

I’m curious to hear about how this works for you. Let me know so that we can talk about it!

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Decrease Arguments and Increase Understanding in Relationship

Decrease Arguments and Increase Understanding in Relationship

A whole experience can be regarded as a trifecta of thinking, feeling, and doing. Every day, we all walk around and bump into others’ experiences with our own, and we create more experiences and the pattern continues. Sometimes, this pattern is incredibly pleasant, and we get to feel connected to others and resourced. Other times, the pattern is fiercely dangerous to our connection, and we feel myriad feelings such as sadness, anger, hurt, and resentment. How does this happen?

Most often, the reason people experience this painful part of the pattern is because they are not taking responsibility for each point in their trifecta- responsibility for their thoughts, their feelings, and their actions. They say things like, “Well, I wouldn’t have yelled at you if you had just done what I asked you to do in the first place,” or “I wouldn’t have dismissed your opinion if I felt like you respected mine.” They almost immediately give up their integrity to another (and then punish them for it).

You might be able to identify with this pattern. So, what can you do about it? For starters, you can figure out what you want. If what you want is to be happier, more connected to your loved ones, and more understood, then you can move onto the next step. If you want to be unhappy, disconnected and misunderstood… then, don’t change anything you’re doing.

The next step is to ask yourself some questions:

1) “Why did/am I do/doing that?”

2) “How was/am I feeling?”

3) “What was/am I thinking?”

Let’s say you’re in a heated conversation with someone and you throw out the ever-loved phrase, “I wouldn’t have _______________ if you hadn’t_________.
What are you trying to communicate? (Because, give yourself some credit; I’m pretty sure you don’t think that another person can control your actions.) So, what’s going on? Were your feelings hurt? Did you feel disappointed? Is there a resentment you’ve been carrying?

It’s tempting to blame your partner (or your friend, colleague, family member) for your thoughts, feelings, and or actions, but it’s inaccurate. It’s also tempting to presume you know what they are thinking and or feeling and let this inform your actions… again, though, inaccurate. Focus on what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and what you’re doing.

So, after you’ve uncovered your genuine feelings and thoughts, honestly communicate them to your loved one. You can even do it in the middle of a negative pattern- “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’m feeling so frustrated because we’ve had three conversations about how you are going to start putting your shoes away yet I came home and tripped over them again. I have no idea why this keeps happening. It makes me wonder if you don’t care or don’t take it seriously or-?”

Conversations that are heavy on taking responsibility for your experience are much more productive and fulfilling than conversations that are heavy on blame and presumption. We all want to be understood, and we’re a lot more likely to increase our chances of this when we honestly communicate our experiences.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Secrets to Managing Defensiveness in Relationship

Secrets to Managing Defensiveness in Relationship

Partner A: “Ok… look at this mess! I thought you said you were going to do the dishes?!”
Partner B: “Do you have any idea what kind of day I’ve had? I don’t need this right now.”
Partner A: “Well, I wouldn’t have to yell at you about it if you’d just do them in the first place.”
Partner B: “You don’t have to yell at me at all. If it bothers you that much why don’t you just do them yourself or stop looking at them or something. You make it so much worse for yourself.”
(Cue: explosion)

 

When you express your feelings to someone, you feel better when they respond with something along the lines of, “I don’t think I could care any less than I do right now,” right? Nope. You’re absolutely right. When you tell someone how you feel, it’s usually because you’re hoping that the two of you will connect in some way.

 

There are plenty of ways to communicate feelings, some more provocative than others. The provocative deliveries can make it tempting to snap back with a defensive answer. Even calm approaches to expressing feelings can be met with a defensive response. Bottom line- it’s not that hard to become defensive.

 

Statements used in defense can be made with a few different undertones- criticism, deflection, blame, contempt, and rejection. They convey ideas like; “You’re wrong for feeling like this,” “My experience is more important than yours,” “Your dissatisfaction is your fault,” “Your needs make me angry,” and “This is your problem. Deal with it”. These are tough ideas to sit with, especially when you’re sharing your feelings.

 

I’m not saying it’s ideal to come home from a long day and be met with instant need; I know most of us would rather relax. It’s also not ideal to get into an argument and feel disconnected from your partner. Defensiveness is an efficient way to engage an argument and reduce intimacy!

 

So, what can you do instead? For starters, you can take a few moments before you answer. Think about what they might be experiencing. Do they seem overwhelmed? Insecure? Lonely? Scared? Understanding the need that someone is communicating to you can make it a little easier to respond with empathy.

 

Partner A: “Ok… look at this mess! I thought you said you were going to do the dishes?!”
Partner B: “You’re right; I did. I’m sorry I haven’t done them yet. I had such a long day that all I wanted to do is come home and relax.”
Partner A: “My days are long, too. We still have to help out; otherwise, things start to pile up.”
Partner B: “I guess I didn’t really think about the impact it has on you.”
Partner A: “Sorry I attacked you. I’ve just been feeling so overwhelmed…”
Partner B: “I definitely don’t want to add to that. I guess we’ve both been feeling overwhelmed.”

 

A little empathy can go a long way. While this conversation isn’t over, it is on the right track. By being open to what your partner is trying to tell you, you create a safe place for both of you to express challenges without blame or judgment.

 

Dealing with challenges can be scary and assuaging fear is a lot easier to do in an environment of empathy. Ditch the defense.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie