A Deeper Look at Relationship Talk...
If you want a full-of-respect, caring relationship, try this full-of-caring, respectful talk with anyone in your circle that you care about. It's especially important with your intimate partner.
1. Be PRESENT.
When you're "present" to the other person, your behavior says, "I commit my time and energy to you, not only when life is calm and we're happy, but also when there's a problem or a crisis in your life. I'm here because I want to be.”
I bet you’ve noticed that you can actually see when a person is "present" and when he isn't. Vacant, glazed-over eyes tell you when a person is "gone." And, your partner can "see" when your body is there but you aren't. So concentrate. Focus. Be intent on connecting. Be "with" your partner when he speaks. Your goal is to deeply know him. Your goal is to create trust.
Of course, you can expect the same wonderful, healthy treatment from your partner.
2. Be GENUINE.
Being genuine means that you are openly sincere. Genuineness shows that you are comfortable enough with yourself that you’ll risk letting him really know you.
Of course, you can’t disclose yourself if you don’t really know yourself. So, practice introspection. Get to know your own feelings, thoughts, needs and wants. Then, you can honestly share.
Strive to be defenseless, even though it can be difficult. (This is so important!) Many defenses form by five years old, just as our personal beliefs do, so they may come up automatically without you realizing it. Learn to tune in—to yourself.
Expect the same care from your partner: he should strive to be genuine and without defenses. Anything else from him promotes suspicion, and eventually, you’ll feel lonely and separated.
3. Listen OPENLY.
When someone listens to you fully, you see it and feel it in the other person's caring, understanding expressions. When you are the listener, do the same: show the other person that you’re focused. You can do this through attentive body language, by using an inviting tone of voice and empathetic facial expressions. Do these sincerely because you actually feel them. This kind of openness is one of your best allies in relationship because your partner relaxes with you. It promotes trust.
Be OPEN to hear what your partner is saying. Don’t judge or criticize; they’re destructive.
You can expect non-defensive, open listening from your partner, too. In responsible healthy relationships, each of you willingly gives and each of you receives.
4. Listen ACTIVELY.
When you actively listen, you literally suspend your own thoughts and feelings. You give yourself over to understanding your partner: not just hearing the words, but listening for the meaning. People aren't always able to say what they mean in exactly the right words. You must listen for "what does this person really mean?" To grasp the message: try to identify the feelings your partner is having and sharing, as well as the thoughts and experiences he's telling you about. If you're unclear about his meaning, ask him. Refuse to be judgmental; refuse to make assumptions.
You, too, should expect deep, active listening from your partner. In a loving, respectful relationship, both people give and both receive.
5. INVITE The Other Person.
You're interested in the other person; so you ask him about himself. Then, ask him to explain anything that you didn’t understand. You don’t judge, assume, guess, remain silent, or do anything that shuts down talk between you.
Then, it's your turn. He should be interested and listening carefully, but asks you to explain anything that he doesn't understand. In other words, you have a respectful exchange, aimed at "getting it clear," understanding it, whatever "it" is. Your behavior shows that you want to strengthen your relationship. You invest in each other. Neither of you competes.
6. NO Problem-Solving.
Unless your partner asks you to, don't tell him how he can "fix" it, whatever “it” is. Maybe you're so anxious to help, you start "telling" instead of listening. Maybe you think you see the subject more clearly and conclude that your answers are the best thing you can give your partner. Not so.
The truth? Your partner can probably solve his own problems. What he wants from you is your attention and focused listening. Why? Then he feels valued, taken in and supported while he figures it out for himself.
When your partner's finished talking if you think you have a great solution that hasn't been mentioned, ask him if you can make a suggestion. But, tell him that he can refuse if he isn't interested. And mean it. Maybe he only wanted to vent.
How about you? When your partner offers you a solution, does it run through your mind that he thinks you can't solve your own problems? You wouldn't be unusual if you did. Most people become defensive with others when they feel stupid.
7. Give FEEDBACK.
When your partner speaks, give feedback. Tell him what you do or don't understand about what he says. When you speak, ask him to tell you what he does or doesn't understand about what you're saying. Checking information helps prevent misunderstandings. When we believe that others don’t understand us, we distance ourselves to feel safe.
When you respond to your partner, he feels valuable. Responding is a way to empathize with and respect him. When you're "with him" and understand him, you experience his feelings with him. Together you achieve one of those wonderful moments of togetherness. You build trust. That’s called “intimacy.”
Of course, it works the same way from him to you.
8. Be ENCOURAGING.
You genuinely want to support your partner. So, actually feel and say the supportive, loving things to your partner that you know will help him. Then, remind him that he can use his unique talents and strengths to help himself. Not only is it true, but it will mean a lot coming from you.
Also, you increase the chances that he will reveal himself to you if he understands that he's emotionally safe. That's what consistent encouragement accomplishes.
For yourself, expect encouragement from your partner. It's often the fuel that runs our motors through each day.
9. Speak in "I" STATEMENTS.
By using "I," you're risking and revealing. But, in a serious, committed relationship, you want to risk and reveal.
Examples? Risking might sound like: "I'm worried about us;" "I want to talk about something that's bothering me;" or even, "I feel great about something that happened today." Why would the last statement be a risk? Partners have been known to hop all over happiness for their own negative reasons. Or, if your partner is naturally competitive or defensive, he might have sour feelings and responses if you really "feel great."
A revealing response might sound like: "Yeah, I've felt that way, too," or "I've been in that same situation," or "Oh, I know that feeling." True intimacy seldom happens unless you share yourself.
Here's another reason for you to use "I" statements: to avoid "you" statements. Even though you may not feel accusing, critical, blaming or disrespectful when you use "you" sentences, you may sound that way. Or, even when you don't sound that way, your partner may still feel attacked when the first thing he hears is a sentence that starts with "you." "You" statements almost always result in defensiveness.
10. Be NATURAL.
Expect this kind of "talk" to feel strange when you first begin to use it. It's usual to feel awkward when you do something unfamiliar. But practice, like you do when you're trying to learn any new skill. You'll find that this kind of "talk" becomes natural over time.
11. Practice ACCEPTANCE.
To accept another person, we open to the whole person, good traits and bad. Even though we might not like some of our partner’s behaviors, you can’t be sarcastic, or critical, or judging or annoyed. Acceptance means you're patient with him. Your partner has a right to his own convictions, just as you do. Your partner has a right to live judgment-free, just as you do.
If you accept your partner openly, you guarantee a future of shared private feelings and thoughts. Why? You become an emotionally safe place for him. Is there a reward for loving your partner enough to accept him as he is? Yes: one, a feeling of warmth and closeness (that's intimacy); two, his acceptance of the total you, with all your positives and faults..
If you use this talk with your partner, he will feel valued and loved. And, if your partner talks in the same open, non-defensive way, you too, will feel valued and loved. Your trust for each other will grow. Then, you'll both get what you really want: intimacy at all levels.
Warm regards from me until next time,
Thanks so much for reading. And, if you think anyone you know would like this article, please forward it.
Joan Chamberlain is an author, therapist, and life coach with over 30 years of experience helping adults, couples, and teens. She has a Bachelor's degree in Business and Finance, a Bachelor's in education, and a Masters in individuals, couples, and family counseling. Her book, Smart Relationships, has helped many people achieve the self-awareness needed to see themselves honestly. Its wisdom has helped them work toward improving their relationships with themselves, their friends, and their families.