Change is a courageous act. At one point or another we might find ourselves stuck. Stuck in a relationship that follows the same pattern, where things seem to be set in a particular dynamic. Perhaps it is a dynamic that no longer works for you. Breaking out of this status quo can be scary and exciting at the same time. As we seek change in a relationship we might be met with resistance from our partners, and working through it takes courage, strategy, and acceptance of self and others.
Clarifying what change you want to achieve and knowing why it is important to you is essential in facilitating and motivating you to complete the change. The change can be as simple as having an hour to yourself a day, or as large as moving from being a stay at home parent to a working one. You might want your partner to listen to you more, help in the kitchen more, or share parenting responsibilities. The theme here is that you are moving from one equilibrium to another and the in-between can sometimes be a bumpy ride.
In one of the previous blog posts, The Superpower of knowing how to make a request in your relationship, I shared tips for how to ask your partner for what you want or need. In this article I would like to suggest some additional do’s and do not’s to facilitate effective communication.
Do speak up when an issue is important to you. This is not about pointing out to your partner his/her every wrong doing. Instead, it is about assessing your feelings. If an issue comes up and the price of not speaking is feeling resentful, bitter and unhappy, then it is an important concern to raise.
Don’t strike while the iron is hot. If your goal is to change an entrenched pattern but not to win a fight, it is best to address your concerns when you feel calm and clear. When the conversation is heated, we and our partners lose the ability to process information and make clear and rational decisions due to stress. If things are getting heated up during your conversation, invite your partner to take a break and resume the conversation after you both feel grounded again.
Do take some time out to think about the problem and to clarify your position. Before launching a conversation with your partner, take some time to think about where you are at now and what is not working for you. Ask yourself some of these questions: “How do I feel about things right now?” “What do I want to accomplish?” “Who is responsible for what?” “What are the things I can compromise on and what are essentials for me?”
Don’t make vague requests. The more specific you are about what you want the clearer your partner will be about how she or he can make you happy. Asking your partner “I want you to be more sensitive to my needs” is too vague. Asking him or her “I would really appreciate if you took time to ask me about my day?” is concrete, specific and doable.
Do not get stuck focusing on deciding who is right and who is wrong. People are unique and so are their point of views and perspectives. Appreciate each other differences and let go of proving you are right. Here is an opportunity to invite acceptance that two people can feel and think different things about a situation. The goal is not to make the other feel or see the same, but to identify what you two can do to benefit your relationship.
Do recognize that each person is responsible for his or her own behavior. Don’t blame your wife’s mother for creating distance between you and your wife. Each person is responsible for making their own choices and your wife’s behavior is her responsibility and not her mother’s. Same applies to our behaviors. Although our partners can say things to us at times that can trigger anger, we are still responsible for our behavior as we can choose how we react and therefore cannot blame others for it.
Do speak honestly and directly without deflecting. If you are not happy with someone’s behavior, don’t deflect by saying “You know, you farther is quite upset about how you acted yesterday.” Instead, be clear and use ‘I’ statements to express your feelings about the situation. Without being authentic, it’s impossible to be fully honest and experience closeness and intimacy.
Don’t tell another person what she or he thinks or feels or ‘should’ think or feel. As you start taking steps and make changes, your partner might react with anger, frustration or sadness. Don’t criticise their feelings as that can only intensify conflict. Instead, offer them empathy by letting them know that “I might have felt the same if I was in your shoes. I have thought this over and this is an important step in the right direction for me.”
As you move through the bumpy time of change in your relationship, keep in mind that change happens slowly, and that hit-and-run confrontations often do not lead to change. As you start to make changes you will be tested multiple times, and at times you might give in or react in the old ways. Don’t get discouraged. It is a natural part of change to test and try many times before settling into a new way of being with one another.
To learn more about these tips, and to establish and practice deeper communication with your partner, connect with Viktoria, one of the Vida’s Relationship Counsellors.
By Viktoria Ivanova, Certified Canadian Counsellor & Psychotherapist.
Information source: The Dance of Anger by Dr. Harriet Lerner.