Recently the two of us really mis-communicated about something that left us feeling angry and distant from each other. The situation was filled with misunderstanding, assumptions, unspoken meanings–and habitual responses that were more about the past than about that situation.
Since we had just gone through our “Magic Relationship Words” book for a class we were teaching on communication, we had an immediate reminder of what to do and what to say to reconnect with each other–and to find a way to understand one another.
We’re telling you about what happened to us for two reasons…
First, to show you that it’s “normal” to not communicate at your best from time to time–(we were both very tired that evening) and…
There are easy ways to either avoid those disconnections that truly strain your relationship or reconnect more quickly when they happen.
What happens when YOU get triggered by your partner?
Do you get defensive and critical of him or her?
Do you get silent and withdraw?
Do you get sarcastic and angry?
We all have certain automatic responses that happen when we get triggered.
Relationship researcher and psychologist John Gottman says that an early warning sign of a marriage in trouble is one where there’s constant, harsh criticism.
According to Gottman, in a healthy relationship, both people feel like they can voice complaints but the danger comes when those complaints are voiced in anger and become consistent attacks on the partner’s character.
He goes on to say that criticism laden with contempt (usually expressed in the tone of voice and angry expression) is particularly destructive to the relationship.
In order to create better communication and a happier relationship, the challenge is to become aware of your habitual response when you’re triggered–and then choose a better one.
When you make the choice to step out of your usual way of being, you can also choose words that help both of you open to new possibilities instead of staying stuck in the same old path.
Here are some suggestions about how to move out of your old communication patterns and make other, healthier choices for your relationship…
1. Get in touch with what you are feeling.
In our situation, because Susie was tired, she just blurted out something that felt like a command to Otto (which is something he doesn’t appreciate from anyone.)
Susie wasn’t able in that instant to tune into what she was feeling but later, she was.
Later, when we were discussing what happened, we each tuned into our feelings so that we could express what was really going on inside.
Whether you tune into your feelings as soon as you get that twinge in your gut or tightening in your chest (and that’s something to work toward) or you tune in later–
Make sure that you don’t skip this step.
2. Find the words that will open you and your partner to pave the way to understanding and connection with one another.
If you have difficulty finding the right words to say to your partner in difficult or important situations, you might consider picking up a copy of “Magic Relationship Words.”
In a difficult situation you might say something like this…
“I’d like to talk about what happened and I’d like to share what I felt at the time. Would you listen to me and then I’ll listen to how you felt?”
3. Take responsibility for how you may have contributed to the situation.
What the two of us most wanted was to be understood–and you probably want to be also when mis-understandings happen.
When you take responsibility, you can see how the other person may have reacted the way he or she did–especially if you understand each other’s habitual responses.
“I can see how you could have interpreted my response as a command which is really not how I intended it to be.”
4. Be willing to learn some ways to let go of your habitual responses that no longer bring you want you want.
There are many resources to help you let go of old patterns and one is our “Stop Talking on Eggshells” course.
In it, we describe some ways to get to the root of the stories you tell yourself when you are triggered and how to tell yourself more empowering ones.
5. Always be willing to go back to your intentions for your relationship and your commitments both with each other and in your relationship.
One of our commitments to each other is to always be willing to NOT run away and to be willing to work through any challenges we may have–even if it seems difficult to do in the moment.
Our wish for you is that you find ways to create more ease and happiness in your relationships–and part of that is creating new ways of communicating–even when it’s tough.