In intimate relationships clear communication helps each person to feel heard, understood and respected. Clear communication allows two people to be on the same wavelength, to be productive, and to move their lives along.
Unfortunately, sometimes the flow of communication gets derailed when one person accuses the other for causing their feelings, especially their painful feelings. No one wants to be blamed for someone else’s feelings. While all feelings are acceptable, and exist for good reasons, most of us will do whatever we can to avoid painful feelings. Of course, we do. It is instinctive to avoid feeling pain.
Not only do we want to avoid painful feelings, it is a habit for many to avoid owning our feelings in general. The two seem to go hand in hand; we don’t want to feel them, or take responsibility for them. Yet effective communication happens when each person is able to speak true feelings in a non-blaming, responsible way. Then a conversation can be productive, and even transformative.
Let’s consider how feelings happen. First you have a thought and that thought generates a feeling. It is not the other way around. It only seems that way because thoughts occur lightning fast and often all we are left with is the resulting feeling, not realizing that our own thoughts generated the feeling in the first place.
In our home we try to avoid saying the words, “You made me feel _____.” Fill in the blank with anything a person might typically pin on someone else… sad, angry, ashamed, embarrassed. We have this rule because it is never true. Each person generates his or her own thoughts and resulting feelings, even when it is in response to someone else’s poorly chosen words or behavior.
Now, let’s consider our perceptions that inform our thoughts. We all show up to relationships with pre-conditioned thinking. We become the way we are through influences that include our family belief system, community, culture, religion, schooling, our unique personality, and all the bumps and bruises we have encountered in life so far. All these things, and many more, influence the way we interpret the world around us.
When someone else says something to us, our reception of his or her words have to travel through all these perceptive filters in order for us to have a thought and resulting feeling about it. By the time the other person’s words reach us, we have interpreted them many times over, through our own unique filter system. Who knows, in most cases, what was actually meant by their words by the time the message reaches us?
No rational person would blame someone else for perceptive filters that got established long before you both met. That is just silly. Yet people do it all the time when they blame others for how they feel. We forget our unique, highly subjective filters distort what we hear. And this can go either way: Someone could actually be saying I love you, and our perceptive filters won’t allow it to register.
The good news is no one else has control over your feelings. And, it is possible to learn new skills. Here are a few things to try:
Establish ground rules: Agree that you both want to keep communication safe by avoiding the word “you”, and use “I” statements instead. While this takes careful thought, and deliberate wording, it keeps the conversation going forward.
Own your own experience: Get to the heart of the matter quickly by taking responsibility for your side of the issue. It is powerful when a person simply says… I feel ______. When a straightforward feeling is spoken from the heart with no blame, it is inarguable.
Consider your perceptive filters: You are a one-of-a-kind person with your own way of seeing the world. A smart communicator knows her own filters and how they distort incoming information, and she works to balance them.
Ask for clarification: Repeat back what you’ve heard. You might say, I hear you saying this. Is that correct?
Debrief the conversation: Talking about how you talk to each other is not only okay; it is the only way to get better at it. After an intense conversation, maybe hours, or a day later, evaluate what was said, and consider how you each might have said your part in a more receivable way.
Bottom line is, clear communication is our responsibility, as are our reactions to what others say and do. While what I am proposing here isn’t easy, it is worth the effort. Safe, responsible communication is the gateway to feeling heard, understood and respected.
Your communication affirmation: I do my best every day to communicate clearly, owning my own perceptions, feelings and words.