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

The Power of No

The Power of No

To quote Tina Fey’s geniusly played character on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “Some people are scared of conflict, but… it gets shit done.” She’s right. Conflict, when managed appropriately, gets shit done. I often use this space to talk about how to effectively manage conflict and what it looks like when conflict is mismanaged. I’d like to take a minute to sing the praises of the conflict itself. And what better way to find yourself in conflict than when you say “no”?

You and I both know you don’t want to spend 20 minutes listening to your neighbor talk about his kids when you’re just trying to get into your house after a long day. You don’t want to stay late to work on the work thing that everyone else has blown off any more than I do. And you don’t want to accept the disrespectful treatment from that friend who is a friend, but more of a nuisance. And you and I also know that we’ve said yes to all of these things. We’ve listened to the neighbor, put in work that everyone else has shirked, and accepted the disrespect for a lot of reasons. It felt easier than setting a boundary; we wanted to people-please; we didn’t know how not to engage in the first place. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy, especially at first. You have to say no. There’s no way around it.

When you accept treatment you don’t want; you’re saying to yourself and others, “You don’t have to respect me. I don’t respect me either. I’m more concerned with being accepted by you than I am with liking myself.” That’s a dissatisfying and precarious way to live. Frankly, it’s a perfect recipe for resentment.

And I get it. You might be thinking, “Ok, but if I respected myself I wouldn’t have a problem saying ‘no’ in the first place.” And you’re right. There’s no easy answer here. You just have to start saying “no.” Start anywhere. When your neighbor starts talking to you, greet him but tell him you’ll have to catch him later. Stand up for yourself at work and say that you can’t stay late either or that you don’t want to be the only person working on the project. Assert yourself with your nuisance-friend and tell him you’re not going to go out of your way to give him rides anymore.

We accept subpar treatment because some part of us believes that we deserve it. Start showing yourself that you deserve respect. Show yourself how good it feels when you assert your needs.

I also want to be respectful of what might have made you feel that you’re not allowed to say “no” or that when you do it’s not heard. Trauma can make us feel like it’s not safe to say “no” or that it won’t matter if we do because, at some point, this was true. We keep living as if it continues to be true. Whether it’s childhood abuse, domestic violence, bullying, implicit messaging from parents or other impactful relationships, there are many roads that could have led us to say “yes” when we’d rather say “no.” Working through this requires effort, and it’s totally possible to get there.

If you’d like to be able to set your boundaries and access your self-respect, I’d love to help you.

Get yourself to a place where you can set a boundary because you know your experience and feelings matter. Get yourself to a place where you trust yourself enough to say “no.”

 

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

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

Fighting for Control in Your Relationship?

Fighting for Control in Your Relationship?

This is something a lot of couples negotiate throughout their relationships. What one person feels is common courtesy, someone else might interpret as controlling. Finding a middle ground here can be a challenge.

A lot of people can agree on some basic common courtesies. Things like, calling to say you’ll be late for dinner if someone is expecting you to be home at a specific time, filling up the gas tank after you’ve used someone else’s car, and setting your phone, work, or television show aside while someone is talking to you are all generally considered basic accommodations. But what about the specifics?

 

Much of the difference between common consideration and exerting control in a relationship lies within the intention of both members. Sometimes people aren’t aware of their intentions, and that has a tendency to obscure things. The more empathy you have for yourself and your loved one, the easier it will be to discern your true intention.

 

It’s helpful for both of you to be clear about your preferences so that you know where you stand in relationship to one another. When you’re both clear and honest about how you’d like your relationship to look, it can take some of the angst out of things. Generally, relationships feel more manageable the more everyone is aware of specific expectations.

 

Let’s take an innocuous example from what are usually basic agreements between people. Say you and your partner are watching TV, and you remember something you’ve wanted to ask them. Let’s say that you two have already talked about this kind of thing. You know that, since this is your partner’s favorite TV show, if the matter requires substantial discussion, they would appreciate your patience and waited until the program is over. If your question isn’t so pressing, your partner wouldn’t mind a quick pause in viewing for a brief discussion.

 

If one (or both!) of you experiences the other as controlling, there might be less flexibility in this scenario. Perhaps you’re not concerned with which program is on and you feel that you should be able to ask your question immediately. Maybe your partner doesn’t want to engage in any conversation, regardless of brevity, while watching TV and will not engage with you.

 

If this is the case, it might mean that some unmet needs have set up shop in your relationship. The more unresolved conflict you have about certain issues, however significant, the higher the chance of resentment clouding the communication happening between one another. If you dread bringing this up for discussion with your partner, the chances are slim that the resentment will resolve itself. Resentment doesn’t care whether you’re the one in the relationship who feels controlled or the one who is being held responsible for exerting control; both sides feel angry that they’re not getting their needs met.

 

It’s easy to see how couples can become polarized on certain issues. When that happens, both people dig in their heels, and the last thing they would do is back down. Subjects that started out as a matter of common courtesy start to feel more like issues of control. You can find soothing relief when both of you share your experience of what feels courteous and what feels controlling.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie