In my last blog post I shared three steps for how to listen and love. And, as promised, our next focus will be on how to share your concerns in a way they are more likely to be received in a positive way. In relationships, especially during conflict, it can be easy to immediately place blame on the other person and what he or she is doing to upset you. You may have found yourself saying, “You’re being so insensitive…[or] you’re really starting to annoy me [or] you <insert any other statement>.” It can be easier, and maybe more natural, to place blame rather than to consider how you are feeling and why. I figured the three-step approach might also be helpful for how to express yourself in your relationship. These three steps can be considered any time you feel yourself becoming triggered and you fear an argument or fight is brewing…
Here we go:
1. Step One- PAUSE when upset!
It can be super easy to jump to say, “Stop being so rude!” That statement does not require much thought and is a reaction to how you are feeling. This first step is all about pausing to halt the knee-jerk reaction you may have become used to using whenever upset. Simply pausing during moments of frustration can do numbers for your relationship! Pausing is also a great time to take an emotional step back and take a deep breath (or a few) to help regulate your emotional state.
2. Step Two- CONSIDER the emotion you are experiencing.
If you feel like your partner is being insensitive, what is this insensitivity causing you to feel? I think this can be challenging for many to uncover. If my husband said something that felt insensitive, it likely hurt my feelings. Maybe I felt unimportant, stupid, ashamed, inferior, or <insert negative emotion here>. Uncovering how you feel is extremely important in being able to express your emotions with your partner. Once you uncover how you feel the focus is now on you and your emotion versus placing blame on your partner.
3. Step Three- EXPRESS your emotion by using “I statements".
Avoiding using “you” can help decrease defensive reactions from your partner because he or she does not feel blamed or attacked. It is hard to argue with how another person feels, but it can be easy to argue with what feels like a blame or an unjust attack. If I continue with the insensitive example with my husband I may say, “Hey, I’m feeling a little unimportant and hurt by the response I just heard…” Notice how the focus is all on me and how I feel versus pointing fingers at him. Even saying, “I need to take a minute after what was just said, I am upset and feeling sad right now” can be huge. Not only are you pausing to allow yourself to cool down, but you are also expressing your feelings. Challenge yourself to keep “you” out of any expression, and see how that may positively impact the dynamic when conflict is arising.
When you are reading these steps you may be thinking, “easy enough!” Or maybe you are thinking these steps seem too simple and too easy to really work. Whichever train of thought you are on I think the goal in a relationship is to continue to look for ways to communicate more effectively with one another. Using these three steps to emotionally express yourself will likely take practice and may be met with resistance in the beginning. Try them out and see what happens- you may surprise yourself with how arguments can change in your relationship with even just accomplishing step one- pausing! Build on as time goes on and see if you and your partner can change up pattern of conflict your relationship is in.
Many couples I work with tend to list “communication” as one of their struggles they would like to work on and real listening is a huge part of effective communication. So today I decided it might be helpful to identify three steps of how to listen to love. It is can be easy to feel unloved or unimportant when you feel like your concerns are not being heard. And, I’m sure you have been in the position before where you are talking to someone in a heated discussion and you sense he/she is not listening. When you ask if they are listening they say, “Yes! I’ve been listening to everything you’ve been saying…” Only then he/she quickly jumps back with arguments to what you have just shared. I believe being a part of any relationship requires extra focus on being able to truly listen to what the other person is saying. It may feel like a sacrifice in the beginning, but it is possible you will find how helpful these three steps can be.
1. Listen for what is being said
When in the listening seat, it is easy for people to switch into lawyer mode to try to find numerous ways to disprove what the other person is saying. It may seem more natural to do this than to focus on just hearing and taking in what the other person is actually saying. To listen and love, switch your mindset from the lawyer mentality to the curious listener mentality. Ask yourself what is it that your partner or family member (or whoever) is saying? Why is he/she upset? What specifically happened to cause him/her to begin to share what is on his/her mind with you? Have all of your attention on the other person, as hard as it may be…you will have the opportunity to also share your thoughts and feelings when the timing is right.
2. Listen for what is not being said
It can take a lot of energy and courage to work up what one feels is needed to be said when conflict arises. It is likely there are many times when the affected person shares just the surface level frustrations but may leave the depth of their concerns out. To listen and love, be curious about what he/she may be trying to say but unable. Body language will be helpful here. Is he/she crying? (What do the tears mean?) Is he/she looking away? (Does he/she feel safe? Does he/she feel ashamed?) Is he/she fidgety? (What may be causing him/her to feel nervous or anxious?) Asking questions about what is not being said can help the other person sense your concern and attention on getting to the depth of what he/she is experiencing. Notice again that all of your attention is on the other person.
3. Listen for what the other person is feeling
Curiosity has been a theme word for listening to love. To listen and love when in conversation, be curious to what the other person is feeling. Many times they will tell you and many times they will not. Are they angry, nervous, hurt, sad? When people make it a point to bring something up for discussion they are doing so with the need for some type of validation. Listening for what he/she is feeling will help you be able to validate his/her experience. Someone once told me “validation is not agreeing” and this is huge when it comes to listening. If my partner is angry with me for being irritable and I say, “you’re mad because I’ve been in an irritable mood all day” this does not mean I agree that I was irritable. It means I am validating that he is mad and that I have heard and validated his concern. Once those concerns are validated, it is much easier to move forward to problem solve together.
Beginning to focus on these three steps in your next dispute will already mean you are working in the right direction to listen and love. Your attention is changing to focus only on the person and his/her experience versus just your own thoughts and emotions. As you have read, this post was all about how to listen to show love. You’re probably wondering when you get the chance to share how you feel! Have no fear; the next focus will be on how to share your concerns in a way they are more likely to be received in a positive way.
It's that time of year again...the Texas Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Conference. This year the conference is in San Antonio and today I am attending Mona Fishbane's presentation "From Reactivity to Empowerment in Couple Therapy- the Neurobiological Approach." One of the first messages Mona shared inspired me to do a quick blog post for your reading enjoyment. One of the main neurological chemicals she shares is dopamine- dopamine has a huge impact on how we feel in relationships. You may be wanting to stop reading now because I am throwing out brain chemicals, but read on for a short bit longer and you will see how simple but impactful dopamine really is in relationships.
Why is dopamine important in relationships?
Dopamine is the "I want you" chemical in our brain. Dopamine helps us find that special someone. It gives us the spark from the start, the butterflies every time we see our special someone. So many couples desire the rush they had from the beginning when they first met each other. And, so many couples are upset as time goes on because those strong butterfly like feelings have gone away.
The butterflies are not supposed to last...your brain does not operate that way.
I think it can be challenging to be in a long term relationship and see other new couples or relationships on tv and wish you, too, also still felt the spark. I hear couples say, "I love him/her, but I am not in love with him/her anymore." This can be so damaging to the other partner and the partner experiencing this feeling as well. They might wonder why they are not in love anymore. They may ask themselves, "What happened to us, why are other couples so happy and in love around me, but I don't feel that high I once felt?" The answer could be dopamine.
Still loving your partner but not feeling in love = partner missing the dopamine high.
If you are relating to this take a deep breath and know you are not alone. The answer to the lack of the shiny and new feeling is normal in long term relationships. Know that dopamine helps us find our special someone by allowing us to feel the extreme high leading relationships into the honeymoon phase. Also know that dopamine drops off after the new love is no longer a new love. It takes effort in relationships to keep the spark alive- and that spark will likely feel different than what is once did based on how our brain simply operates.
You can either read of listen to my blog post. Click the link to listen to the audio version here.
Music has always been a great source of inspiration for me. I find myself drifting away into the lyrics and imagining life through them. For this post, I am going to share a couple lines of a song from an artist my brother introduced me to a few years ago, Jason Isbell. While he is an incredible guitar player and a solid musician overall, his lyrics go straight to my heart when I listen to him (and to most others who listen to him). One of his songs “Life you Chose” off of his latest album “Something More Than Free” has especially stood out to me the past few months. The most prominent lines of this song to me are:
Are you living the life you chose? [or]
Are you living the life that chose you?
When I hear “the life that chose you” I think about the families we all were born into, or our families of origin. And when I hear “the life you chose” it represents one’s differentiation from his or her family of origin. So, as you read these lyrics, find yourself being curious about what these two questions mean for you in your life. These two questions can help guide us, as adults, through many transitional stages of our lives- and they always worth exploring.
When you begin to ask yourself if you are living the life you chose, or the life that chose you, this may bring mixed emotions. How do you find yourself processing the meaning behind these lyrics? Maybe you find yourself with a sinking feeling in your stomach because you are not sure how to answer the questions- maybe it is something you have never thought about. Maybe you feel guilt, shame or fear with what the answers to these questions could mean for yourself personally. Maybe you feel empowered because these questions are something you have searched for the answers to before, and maybe even happened upon a few. Or, perhaps you are simply curious as to what these questions could mean for yourself now and in the future. You could also have a mix of all of these potential emotions. Whatever emotion you are feeling, you are not alone. It is a natural part of adulthood to begin to (and continue to) question the lives we all are living.
It can be challenging to determine if the life that chose us is the one that fits us or if it is necessary to choose a different life path.
The life that chose you may positively feel…
The life that chose you may negatively feel…
Again you may be feeling mixed emotions, which is normal. There are likely things from the life that chose you that serve you well and others that do not serve you in any positive way. Consider this example: You may love the fact you come from a family where strong workmanship is valued and this value helps you in your current day to day profession. This value has helped you become successful in your line of work and keeps you driven. However, you may also find that your family also had extremely high expectations of you, expectations you never felt you were able to meet. As a result of this you have experienced a great deal of shame in never feeling good enough. While you are successful in life, shame consumes you and your self-confidence is constantly impacted- which is not working for you in life and negatively affects you on a regular basis.
It can be challenging to transition into choosing the life you want to live versus the life that chose you. After all, there are likely many mixed emotions to sort through in this process. A helpful thing may be to consider your life in its entirety metaphorically as a wardrobe. Within any wardrobe there are clothes you like and clothes you do not like.
Your family from which you came is your wardrobe and you have the power to decide what you want to keep and wear and decide what you will leave behind.
Just like going through any wardrobe, this task may be a year after year annual event or an ongoing process throughout the year. Find what serves you from the life that chose you and continue wearing this as a part of who you are. Finding what does not serve you, and letting it go, will help you choose the life you want to live.