***QUESTION FROM A READER:
“I find approaching or discussion about jealousy issues in my relationships THE MOST DIFFICULT part. Can you guys please suggest ways of talking about it with our partners… specific words to use and what not to say?”
First of all–great question because most of us haven’t been taught how to say difficult things without the other person shutting down –and turning us off.
It’s especially challenging to tell someone something that we’d like them to change and actually feel like the other person listened.
And when it comes to talking about jealousy, it’s a mine field!
We’re actually working on a new book about the right words to say to our partners to keep the conversation and lines of communication open when discussing important issues and…
When it comes to jealousy, there are usually three kinds of conversations that people attempt to have happen…
1. You feel your partner is acting in certain ways that violate commitments you thought you’ve made to each other and you want him or her to stop.
2. Your jealousy is clearly in your head and you don’t know how to stop asking nagging questions of your partner.
3. Your partner’s jealousy is really getting to you and you want it to stop.
If you’ve ever run up against any of these, here are some ideas that may help you communicate what you need to in a way that can be heard…
1. Stop yourself from doing or saying what you habitually do, tune in, and get clear about what you want.
It’s not enough to say “I want this to stop” or “Where were you from 1:00-3:00 today?”
In fact, if you do say those things, you will probably be met by defensiveness, anger or stony silence.
When you stop yourself from what you habitually do by taking a breath or some other way that works for you, you have a chance to break yourself of doing and saying what hasn’t worked in the past.
Ask yourself first–“What do I want in this case?”
Your answer might be–“I just want this to stop.”
If it is…
Go deeper than that.
What you really might want is more of your partner’s love and attention, to feel close to your partner again, to have more fun together –or you might want to feel good about yourself.
Whatever it is, you have to be the detective and figure out what you really want. You’ll find it underneath your habitual response that automatically puts your partner on the defensive or pushes him or her away.
2. Be clear about your motivation for having this discussion.
Do you want to hurt your partner because you feel hurt?
Do you want to be right?
Do you want to keep him or her at a distance because you’re afraid of getting hurt?
Do you want to connect deeper with your partner?
Feel into yourself for your motivation in having this discussion.
3. Check your attitude and tone of voice.
If you’ve got an “attitude,” guess what?
Your partner will have one too–and we’re guessing that’s not what you want.
If you’re really angry, take the time to cool down before you say anything.
When you use words like “I think…” or “You have to…” or “You should have” -especially with a challenging, angry tone of voice–your partner will tune you out or come back at you with anger.
Before you say the first word to your partner, it’s so important for you to take the time to check in with yourself.
Look at like building the foundation of a house.
A strong foundation has to be there or the structure will just collapse when there’s a strong wind or storm.
Communicating the difficult stuff is the same way.
4. Start with what you want and admit that you don’t know his or her intentions (unless, of course you are faced with evidence of betrayal that can’t be argued with.)
If it gets into a “he said”–“she said” argument, no one wins.
And because your partner may have a different way of looking at the situation, you want to keep the lines of communication open so you can find ways to come together on this instead of pushing further apart.
You can say something like this…
“I love you and I want us to feel close and connected and although it may not be your intention…”
5. Say what it feels like to you.
“when this happens, I feel separated and distant from you–and I feel alone.”
6. Invite a discussion of ways to resolve the issue or at least, understand it better.
You can say something like this…
“Can we talk about ways to understand each other better so we can feel closer?”
Now of course, you have to listen as well as speak.
As hard as it might seem…
You have to let go of your agenda and just listen.
So often when we have something important to say, we only focus on the “saying” part.
Here’s maybe the most important thing we’ll say here…
Listening is just as important as expressing yourself.
When one or both of you get into “defense” mode, there is no chance that you will listen to each other.
So it’s really important to recognize your particular way of stopping important conversations and then open to trying something new.
Remember, it’s not only the words you say–but it’s how you say those words, your intention behind them, and your ability to listen that determines if you’ll be heard or not.