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Our intimate relationships can be the most incredible, nurturing, and fulfilling relationships we can have as human beings. When two people come together in marriage or any long-term commitment, it is usually with the heartfelt intention of making the relationship and each other the primary focal point of their lives. Of course there are other areas of life that are important—like health, family, and career—and yet the marriage is what makes up the foundation for two people as they journey through life together.
At the beginning, romantic relationships are exciting, invigorating, and passion-filled. Our hearts are a-flutter, there’s a wild adrenaline rush and an overwhelming desire to be with one another every moment of every day. It can be the most powerfully euphoric feeling ever. Over time and as two people fall into a routine, if the relationship isn’t tended to on a daily basis, the couple will lose sight of the relationship and of each other. Careers, children, and day-to-day responsibilities take the lead and the relationship falls to the wayside.
A key ingredient to any successful marriage is the ability to consciously communicate with one another in a loving and direct way that gets results. Results in this context refer to having your own needs met and also meeting the needs of your partner. Each of us has an innate desire to be deeply connected with our partner and let’s face it, our happiness is determined by whether or not our needs are being met. Let’s first consider some fundamental needs that we all have.
We all have a deep yearning for attention, affection, appreciation, and acceptance. Across the board, everyone wants to be acknowledged in positive ways. People want to be treated lovingly and respectfully, especially by those who they are in an intimate relationship with. We all want to feel appreciated and we all long for total and complete acceptance of who we are—the good, the bad, and everything in between. Especially in our intimate relationship.
What is perhaps the most fascinating part of this is that many of us don’t know what we need in a given circumstance, yet we expect our spouse to know what we need and to meet our needs. Have you ever said to someone, “You should have known what I wanted (or needed)”? We unconsciously make it their responsibility to provide what we need without us asking for it. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. It’s like we have the impression that our partners carry around a crystal ball that tells them exactly what we want and need in every moment, and we then hold them to performing flawlessly in our favor. How crazy is that?!
Can you remember the last time you were in a heated argument with your partner and can you recall what it was that you needed from him or her in that moment, specifically? Were you able to get your need met? How was your communication during that interaction?
Whenever we experience emotional turbulence, our ability to effectively communicate tends to fly straight out the window. The best approach is to avoid talking when things are heated and also refrain from going into it with a harsh start-up. Harsh start-ups commonly begin with some form of criticism, like “What is wrong with you?” It’s always best to initiate your conversation with a soft start-up and when things are good between the two of you.
Here are four simple steps to help you craft and deliver your message clearly and consciously.
Whenever you find yourself in an emotionally charged situation, it’s best to ask questions that empower you and promote conscious interactions before responding. At first, you may find it beneficial to step away from the circumstance so you can clear your mind and spend some time contemplating the following questions. Have a journal or a notebook handy so you can make some notes as you go along.
Step 1: What happened?
Do your best to observe what happened without judging or criticizing your partner, or creating any stories around the situation. We often go right into blaming mode and waste time painting an elaborate picture that only perpetuates the melodrama. Instead, simply write down what happened: she arrived at 6:30 p.m. and our dinner reservation was for 6 p.m., or he put the groceries down and turned on the television. Again, refrain from going into the story. All this does is get you wound up even more.
Step 2: What emotions am I feeling?
Identify how you are feeling in the moment and do your best to refrain from projecting responsibility for how you’re feeling onto your partner. The emotions you are feeling are yours and yours alone. Your partner may have brought them to the surface and now it is your responsibility to choose how to express them. Taking responsibility for how you are feeling is the first step in exercising emotional intelligence and sets you up for success in your communication. The key here is to cite the specific emotion you are feeling. Examples of emotions are:
Be sure to check your defensiveness at the door. Being on the defense is a way of blaming your partner for what is happening, rather than taking responsibility for how you are feeling. This is also a good time to abandon any patterns of victimization. Using words that encourage victimization bolster you to an emotional state that renders you powerless. That doesn’t serve you and it certainly doesn’t serve your spouse.
Stand in your power and state your needs in a way that will increase the likelihood of improving the way your partner relates to you. Some examples of words that encourage victimization and are best avoided are:
Basically, you want to avoid pointing these words toward your partner by saying things like, “You betrayed me,” and instead share how you are feeling as a result of a betrayal. Alternatively, you might instead say, “I am feeling hurt and resentful.”
Step 3: What do I need that I’m not receiving?
Taking the time to identify the need you have that isn’t being met will help you to express yourself in an emotionally resourceful way. In addition, it will help your partner know how you are feeling and how to make positive course corrections in your relationship. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now that I’m not receiving?” and make some notes.If you have some time now, you can also take a few minutes to reflect back on a previous conflict where you needed something and your partner wasn’t able to deliver. What was your unmet need in that moment? Did you just need them to listen? Did you need to hear them express their appreciation for something you did? Did you need some down time away from the kids? Did you need to feel some intimacy with your spouse?
Step 4: What am I asking for?
Now, consider a specific behavior or outcome that you are seeking. It’s important that you clearly identify what it is that you are asking for from your partner and that you deliver it in the form of a request versus a demand. Demands imply a sense of superiority over another person and are a form of disrespect. Demands rarely work out well and they are the birthing ground for what Dr. John Gottman refers to as the “Four Horsemen” in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The Four Horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Requests on the other hand, convey a level of respect and a desire for conflict resolution.When you are preparing to consciously deliver your communication, you must take a few moments to prepare yourself for the conversation. These are simple steps, but they are anything but easy. You must be willing to come from a place of vulnerability and express humility as you convey your message. Any adversarial tone or energy directed toward your partner will be perceived as an attack and they are likely to fire back.
When you have gone through these steps, you can now piece together each of the components to design and then deliver your communication. Try it on by saying it out loud a few times to yourself first and see how it feels. Imagine if your partner were communicating this to you and make any necessary adjustments based on how you would prefer to be spoken to. Remember to hold the highest intention of resolving the conflict and reestablishing your love connection with your spouse.
Learning how to effectively and consciously communicate in your marriage or relationship is paramount if you hope to go the distance together. Dr. John Gottman writes that “to make a relationship last, couples must become better friends, learn to manage conflict, and create ways to support each other’s hopes and dreams.” What better way to live in love with the person you’ve chosen to spend the rest of your life with?
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