Being in a relationship has its ups and downs. The same can be said about having a family. When it comes to conflict in either area, the powerful impact communication can have in any relationship is widely agreed upon.
Ability to self-regulate facilitates healthy communication
A key component of being able to communicate effectively is our ability to self-regulate.
What does this mean? Essentially, this means how we are best able to manage our emotions. This might not seem like a completely foreign concept but what might be is the thing that often gets in the way, awareness.
It is the awareness of our values and beliefs and how those impact our expectations that’s often the culprit in creating communication blocks, emotional dysregulation, and ultimately conflict or even divorce.
In my work with couples, they often come to me expressing how angry they are that their partner didn’t care enough to do ‘x’ or forgot to do ‘y’ or messed up ‘z’. In some cases, the behaviors that their talking about might seem insignificant on the surface (like taking out the trash or loading the dishwasher) so when they actually do try to communicate and resolve the issue they don’t seem to get anywhere.
Why? Because they’re not talking about the real issue!
The real issue is what those things represent to them, the deeper meaning of what they symbolize. This is what we need to communicate and understand with our partner because honestly, no one really cares that much about the dishes.
“So how do we start to build that awareness?” you might ask. Well, here are a few tips to help get you on track.
1. When you are starting to feel angry towards your partner
Notice where you feel those sensations and how intense they are for you.
On a scale of 1 to 10, is it a 3 or a 7? This will help you start creating insight as to how significant the issue is and thus the importance of that value or belief behind it. Some things can be negotiated while others cannot.
If it’s a 10 every time, I may need to consider if this is a deal breaker.
2. Reorient yourself
Take time to honor whatever you’re experiencing by stepping back and attending to your own needs before talking it out!
Communicating those deep thoughts and emotions can be heard enough as it is, much less while we’re in the midst of them. Chances are, doing so will likely only escalate things. Instead, reorient yourself.
Things like deep breathing, grounding exercises, meditation, listening to bilateral music, and self-care, etc are all great ways to shift out of the fight, flight or freeze state and back into our logical/functional state.
3. Look back on the issue
Once you’ve had time to get regulated, look back on the issue and ask yourself what was the value or belief being challenged at that time?
Are the dishes a symbol for our teamwork in a relationship? Is the bigger issue that I’m feeling like my partner is not pulling their weight or was it more about them not doing the dishes because they worked late again.
Does this say to me, “You’re not my priority?” As you can see, the same behavior might mean something totally different at the root which is why it’s important to get clear on this before talking through it.
4. Ask for your partner’s input
After you’ve gone through the 1st three steps, you’re ready to prepare. Write down what you took from your reflection to share with your partner. For example, how upset you were on your scale and how does that connect to your value (i.e. how important it is and why).
Also, ask for your partner’s input on when a good time would be to have the discussion. Pick a time that will work well for both of you to allow for minimal distractions or additional triggers on either part.
5. When going through the conversation, be mindful and open
Your partner will have their own thoughts and feelings as well.
You want to attend to those but respectfully be clear that you’d like to share first.
Stay away from the word “you” as this can often send people on the defense which is not the goal.
The goal is feeling heard and hopefully create change! Instead, use “I” statements being sure to end with the request for a change in behavior. It’s all about how you can work together to resolve the issue.