I was going to pull something for today’s missive from , but I decided instead to write about something more immediate. I’m going to tell you about what’s going on for me right now, today. Other people’s stories are involved, but I’m going to try to focus just on myself, my process, and how I’m using (and sometimes failing to use) my tools.
I’ve been dating someone for a couple of years on and off, but mostly on. There have been a few times where I thought it was definitely going to be permanently off. But then we’d start interacting again, and realize how much we still really enjoyed each other’s company. And gradually we’d build back up to a point where we were very attached (more on secure/insecure attachment down the road), and every time it got to that point, there would be some sort of epic breakdown.
Now, I’ve been studying and teaching about relationships and communication for much of my life, and especially for the last 10 years. I am *actually* an expert, and yet I couldn’t make this relationship work.
Anyone else see the problem there?
No one person can MAKE a relationship work. If there is more than one person involved, it is not only impossible, but highly inadvisable for one person to force decisions on the other(s). You might think people “make” you do things, like your boss, or your mom, or partner. The most common way we use this language is to say someone “makes us feel.”
I have news for you.
No one “makes us feel.”
We feel all on our own.
I could say I had those breakdowns in my relationship because he “made me feel” so angry! But through of my study of Nonviolent Communication, I have discovered that this is not an accurate way to describe what’s really happening here.
Closer to the truth would be to say that I had an emotional reaction to something he’d said to me.
This may sound like the same thing to some, but I promise you, it’s incredibly different!
Usually what happens when we think someone has “made us feel” is that they’ve said something that points to a story in our own minds, something that may be a pattern or a “program” of learned thinking. In my case the story has mostly been about someone telling me it’s “all my fault.”
That whole concept of something being all on me, being blamed by someone, or seen to be entirely at fault for something flips a switch in my head that causes a chain reaction in my thinking, and sends me into a spiral of defensiveness, negative feelings, and anger. This is called a trigger.
Triggers can come in many forms, and, as indicated by its namesake, often cause explosive or violent reactions on the part of the person experiencing the trigger. Some triggers can be positive, like a joke that inspires explosive laughter. More often, however, triggers cause negative reactions on the part of the person experiencing them.
Now, to put this all together, here’s what was happening in my relationship:
My partner and I would be in conversation, sometimes heated, and he would say something that I interpreted as blame. Sometimes one or the other of us would already be upset. I would get “triggered” and say something snappy, to which he’d respond by shutting down emotionally, or attempting to withdraw from the conversation, which is also a form of self defense. Another trigger for me is abandonment (as is true for many), so I would start to feel afraid that he was going to leave, or that I wouldn’t get the understanding I needed so desperately, so I’d try to keep him in the conversation by any means necessary. But my reactionary self doesn’t calmly say “Oh, I’m feeling afraid, and I’d like to stay in connection with this person so we can get our needs met.” It screams in my head, “OHMYGOD! HE’S GOING TO LEAVE, AND THEN I’LL BE ALONE, AND IT WILL BE THE WORST. THING. EVER! DON’T LET HIM GET AWAY!!!” And because there’s someone screaming in my head, I start raising my voice to be heard over my own screaming thoughts. Guess what one of *his* big triggers is? Raised voices. Sigh.
We went through this cycle a few times, and then something shifted. For both of us, it seems, although I can’t speak for him.
You’ve heard me mention Nonviolent Communication, which is a format for conversation that I advocate strongly in every kind of interaction. I’ve studied NVC at some length, and a number of other communication practices that emphasize compassion as a core value.
This certainly doesn’t mean I’m perfect at it. It is not easy, and requires learning, practice, skill, and most importantly patience and empathy.
“Of course,” you may be thinking, “In order to communicate well you need to be patient with others. That makes total sense.”
Actually, the thing I realized (with the help of my partner, my mom, and many dear friends), is this:
It’s not others who require the majority of my patience and empathy…
Sometimes in an argument, instead of taking a deep breath, noticing why I’m feeling defensive, and checking in with my needs (all part of the NVC process), I can’t overcome the negative voice in my own head.
Self-judgement is my most common pitfall in my life. My internal process can be shockingly unkind. My most common self-deprecation is something along the lines of “I should know better,” or “What a stupid/worthless/useless thing I just did/said!” Which is generally almost immediately followed by the judgement:
“What a stupid/worthless/useless human I am.”
Raise your hand if you’ve been there.
Will all those with their hands raised do me a favor?
Hold your arms out in front of you, palms toward each other. Now cross one outstretched arm over the other and bend your elbows. Your palms should be near your shoulders right now. Grip those shoulders mightily and squeeze. Take a deep breath, and say these words to yourself:
I forgive you, and I love you.
The basis for all compassionate communication is empathy. That empathy has to start with yourself.
You may have come to this list looking for information about sex. This email wasn’t about sex, but this concept is at the core of so many issues I see with intimate relationships. Self love and self-forgiveness are the corner-stones of strong relationships.
What does your inner voice say to you? I’d love to talk to you about it. Set up a call with me and tell me about it. I’d consider it an honor to help you get out of your head, and into better, more loving, more connected relationships… Which of course leads to better sex!
As I mentioned yesterday, my private coaching program is launching to a select 10 people. The first three registrants will receive an almost 20% discount automatically. If you resonate with what I’m saying, I know I can help improve your intimate relationships. Schedule a call with me today. Right now. Don’t wait.
Because I can’t wait to hear from you. 😉
Love and forgiveness,