“Don’t wait for your feelings to change to take action. Take action and your feelings will change.” – Barbara Baron
Too many times we hear the phrase “grounds for divorce” and think about its devastating impact. Instead, we should be thinking about the grounds for marriage. What is it that you do, feel, and say that keeps your loved one close? While no universal practice or theory of marriage and relationships exists, we can sort out a few important tips that span all relationships.
The idea of “happy wife, happy life” and “keep him happy by feeding him” are terribly outdated. It assumes the need to hold back information or to give into simple pleasures to keep a marriage together. Instead, what we need to practice is honest communication that speaks real honesty. While it sounds redundant, it is important to remember that honesty is not always straightforward.
By now you have likely heard that communication is the key to a healthy relationship but sometimes people are confused on what should and should not be communicated.
The truth is, as scary as it may be, there are few exceptions for what you should let fall by the wayside. When you are honest about your feelings in a non-threatening manner, communication becomes a back and forth moment of equality. And it must constantly be practiced!
Bear in mind that none of these tips are based on an abusive relationship. If you are in emotional or physical danger, please seek help.
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What should I be honest about?
The simplest answer is to ask yourself the second question; “what do I need to convey to my partner?” Sometimes you need to relieve yourself of an unselfish feeling. A month ago I was feeling weak and worried. Every day I felt like I was about to erupt in an emotional lashing that nobody deserves but that I needed somebody to hear. My partner is my most trusted ally. I asked her to listen to me and used the mighty ‘what’ language. However, before I began this tirade, I explained that I knew in advance that my feelings were exclusively mine and that I meant no anger in her direction.
After an agreement to the terms, I explained in several minutes of typing that I was angry. I was mad at her for being better than me at this and that. I was mad at the world for holding me back. I was angry that I had COPD and Bipolar Disorder. When it was done, I finally struck a chord and realized I was feeling insecure and that I was angry at myself for a lesser effort leading to a lesser result. We talked online; then when I came home, we talked more. No hurt feelings; only a deepening level of respect and relief. I felt alive and even closer to my partner of nearly 15 years.
When you work on telling your partner what we feel in a non-threatening tone, you eliminate confusion and resistance. You reduce the possibility of mixed signals and improve communication. Ultimately, you become closer because in sharing such deep worries, you are showing our partner that they are trusted more than the rest of the world. The positive results are endless.
How do I start?
You have to work on communicating during a non-event. In couple and family therapy, I explain that an event is the worst time to try and sort out the who’s, what’s, and whys of what happened. During and immediately after an event, emotions are high, and you are susceptible to speaking in your ugliest manner. Instead, try speaking during a non-event. A non-event is a period when no occurrence has set up for dangerous emotions. This can be achieved in three ways.
- Before an event – If you feel temperatures are going up, take the time to separate from the situation and sort out your feelings. Your partner will also have taken time by nature of distance. Then meet a second time in a clearer and calmer manner and explain the nature of the occurrence.
- After an event – After tempers have cooled, try and return on neutral grounds to discuss what happened and how it can be prevented in the future. While it is too late to go back in time and stop the event, you can calmly discuss and decide on new courses of action.
- Schedule discussion – Perhaps my favorite method of diffusing an event is to schedule a time each week to have a “state of the union” address. Each partner takes the time to come up with three items from the prior week and has an uninterrupted time to reveal the following; one thing your partner did this week that was appreciated, one thing your partner did this week that was not appreciated, and one thing your partner did this week that communicated love. By doing this, your partner is allowed a calm retelling of an event and can have followed up discussion.
How do I engage?
It ‘s hard at first to listen to even a rational explanation of what you did to hurt your partner. However, it is important to allow them comfortable space to explain so that you may consider your part in the situation. Then with an equally calm mind, you can come to an agreement on how to help ease tension and potentially avoid a problem in the future. After a while of practice, you will learn to listen without interruption, and soon you will learn a world of knowledge about your special someone.
The next step is to explain what you heard in return to your partner. “So I see you are saying that last time I said the words you’re acting stupidly’ it hurt you because it felt like a personal attack.” Not only have you conveyed your understanding of your partner’s point, but you have also verbalized the words and solidified them in your mind. Now you are confident that you understand how to help. As always, aim to remain judgmental and offer space to explore, not space to be defensive.
After having your non-event discussion, take the time to relax and understand the implications and ramifications of the discussion. What did you learn about your partner? What did you learn about yourself? What can you do tomorrow to make your partner feel loved and secure? All of these questions yield a massive wealth of knowledge. But the best part is the feeling of closeness you will gain follow a simple moment of shared time with your special someone.
Now go out and communicate!