Do you have things that you don’t tell you partner because you’re afraid of how they’ll react? Is it easier to avoid the conversation than to deal with their response?
Do you know that your lack of communication is actually hurting your relationship rather than helping it?
Here’s great article from featured author, Melody Brooke that will help you better understand how to have even the most difficult conversation with your partner and how having these conversations can actually help your relationship grow even stronger.
Oh, No, I Could Never Tell Him That!
by Melody Brooke, MA, LPC, LMFT
It took me many years to figure out that my way of communicating was a disaster. I was so paranoid of telling my partner things that would upset him that I had very few things that I could actually say to him. Even when I got over the paranoia, I still found myself not always telling him things.
By choosing to limit what I was telling my partner, I was controlling him. I chose not to tell him certain things because I was afraid of his reaction. I didn’t want to displease him or anger him, so I just didn’t tell him things that I feared would cause those reactions.
For years I was convinced behavior I labeled as “controlling” was a “bad” thing. It would make upset me terribly to have someone tell me what to do or to command me to behave in a certain way. I would be triggered into feeling trapped, angry and resentful. Yet I never realized that my own lack of communication was really the same thing!
The decision making process is key to understanding why we communicate the way we do. If our decision-making is based on fear or control, we are in for trouble. The trick is; how do we recognize our motivations? To know what our motivations are, we have to be connected with our own feelings. We have to be able to name them, and we have to be able to recognize how they are affecting us, and our communications.
The funny thing is that many of us are keenly aware of what other people are feeling (or what we think they are feeling) and yet clueless about what we are feeling. What I have learned over the years is that the same thing motivates all of us: survival. On a brain level we are driven to do that which will help us survive in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.
Rarely in this day and age are those feelings based on actual physical survival, but rather they are based on the survival of our well being. When we feel our well being is threatened in any way, we will be thrown into a survival mode that is as old as life itself. We can’t help it, its automatic. It doesn’t matter how mature we are, if we are put in the right (or wrong) circumstance we will behave in ways we end up regretting and we may even be confused as to why we found ourselves reacting that way.
This brain response limits our choices. When we are in this kind of reactivity our bodies go into what is known as “fight or flight” response. Telling my partner something I feared would make him angry sent me into “flight”. For me, that meant shutting up, holding back, and not speaking my whole truth. As a result I often ended up lying to him through lies of omission. I didn’t think of it that way, in fact, I rarely thought about it because it was automatic.
Once I recognized that pattern I was able to start speaking my truth to him. Scary though it was, it dramatically improved the quality of our relationship.
I must say it didn’t come easily, because stopping the “flight” reaction immediately led to a “fight” reaction. In other words, I became defensive and angry myself in response to his predicted unhappiness about whatever it was I had to tell him. Whew. What a mess, that is until I found a way out.
When we go into a “flight” reaction we are behaving as Victims in our relationship and not respecting our partners ability to handle what we have to say. When we go into “fight” reactions we are frightened and behaving like a puffer fish trying to scare off a predator. Is that how we want to think of our partner? Our beloved? I don’t think so!
Our alternative is to find a way to speak our emotional truth to our partner. Instead of lashing out in fear, say, “I don’t really understand why, but I am feeling afraid right now.” Two things occur when we allow ourselves this level of honesty. First, we are breaking the cycle. Second we are making ourselves vulnerable, which is of course quite scary when we are already afraid. Yet if we chose this person to be our partner we must have, at some level, a sense that this is someone we can trust. So at this point, we choose to expand our trust to a deeper level, and give them a piece of our emotional truth.
Secondly, we can respond empathetically to our perception of the other person’s fear. Because we know that if someone is not telling their truth, or if they are ramming their truth down our throats, they are in fear. We can then respond with an empathetic statement like, “I can see you are feeling upset. Can you tell me what’s going on?” This response also breaks the cycle and allows for moving into a deeper level of trust and communication.
When we can own our own feelings, have empathy for our partner and respect each other enough to listen to each other’s feelings we can move our relationship into a deeper level of love and understanding. We can then stop having things that we can’t say to each other.