Hello All, I really don't think there are a lot more topics - perhaps 3. And then I will have shared the whole thing. I don't thing a great relationship is an endless learning process, hooray! Seems kind of a finite set of notions, to me.
Lately I have been sharing more and more about communication skills. I thought I might as well create a single place to catch all these chats. (Here's I think a good one between fddlr3
I think of communication in couples as the general heading for data passing back and forth. I think of it as the most frequent activity that couples engage in and the glue that makes good relationships good and the thorns that make bad relationships bad. I see it as the primary tools for shifting or recovering a bad relationship. In this case "good" means a relationship that both people want to be in. By "bad" I mean one where one or the other or both partners want more or less frantically to improve things, or where one or both partners want to get the heck away.
In building a great relationship I think of communication as having several simultaneous goals but prioritized this way:
- First, to facilitate both people feeling SAFE when they are together - Lizards both calm.
- Secondly, to facilitate the flow of data so that both people enjoy being together - no one feels overwhelmed, and no one feels abandoned.
- Thirdly both feel respected even admired and encouraged for their uniqueness -- ok to disagree.
- Both people feel fully heard and listened to.
- Both people feel understood, regularly and reliably.
- All these goals are achieved with little effort as the relative skills are well learned.
So I'll deal with these one at a time. 1)
Safety. My Topic #1. Gotta have it, cuz the Lizards in both people (all people present) will erupt and take over the space. Or they will cause people to lay low, not listening, and building resentment. Trick here is to have various specific strategies to recognize when your Lizard or someone else's Lizard is "losing it". When either of you make that determination, stop communication, and move to reassure those Lizards.
Practical tools to recognize Lizards having trouble involve familiarizing yourself with each other's and your own FLEE, FREEZE, SUBMIT, FIGHT actions. For example: my wife recognizes that when my Lizard starts to get active, my voice pitch rises rapidly. But there are lots and lots of generic tools. For example: Watch your breathing. Lizards tend to restrict breathing. If my Lizard starts to panic, I hold my breath a bit. If my Lizard notices my wife's Lizard starting to panic, I will hold my breath a bit.
Practical things that reassure Lizards are lots and lots. But best are the actions or gestures that are specific to the Lizards in the room. TimeOuts is an example of one of the most potent tools to calm Lizards. Lizard's seem to love repetition, structure, calmness, quiet, cozy and nurturing stuff like food. A great tool is to recognize that Lizards are more active when you are hungry. So feed 'em. My writings on Caring Behaviors or Caring Days can help a couple develop a catalog of things that work.
Generally I have found that pointing a finger at someone comes across as FIGHTING. So when I think my partner's Lizard is activating, I just say, "Wow, things are just going a bit fast for me. I wanna take a break, and pick this up in ...2 hours." I do not say, "Your Lizard is freaking, so I will go away for 2 hours." I tried that. Didn't work.
The bottom line, don't try to communicate, share, etc. when Lizards are active. Calm them damn Lizards! first!2)
Facilitate the flow of communication so as both feel reliably connected. This is my Topic #2. Mostly this means learning to slow down your mouth or your partner's mouth. Talking too slow can be annoying. Talking too fast is just plain destructive and stupid. The trick is to a) develop strategies to quickly identify one of you who is overloaded, or better yet, about to be overloaded and b) develop strategies to put spaces in your togetherness, to slow your words or phrases down to a speed that is just slightly slower than the slowest person present needs.
A useful tool if you are talking is to monitor your partner's non-verbals. This doesn't always work, cuz lots of people know how to say, "Yeah, Yeah" or "I hear you" when they are really overloaded. This is a situation where learning Mirroring can help. When you wonder if your partner is overhwelmed, you can ask them to start Mirroring you. If they can't Mirror or won't mirror, I think you should not be talking. Take a TimeOut.
A useful tool if you are the listener is to track your own brain and see if you can Mirror your partner's words. If the words are coming too fast for you, STOP THEM. Ask them to slow down or start mirroring. Many people are taught to not interrupt a speaker. I think this is a nutty idea. I think there are several situations where not interrupting is rude. This is one of them.
The practical tools for dealing with reliable connection, involve slowing down, inserting more time between sentences, phrases or paragraphs, or inserting time between talking at all. This is the realm of the TIMEOUT, which is I believe the essential skill of Reliable Membership. 3)
Being intentionally respectful to everyone present. To me this is all about MasterTalk and each of your attitudes of positive regard for both your partner and yourself. I covered this in Topic #3 on Bullying. "A Real Man does not allow anyone to be disrespected in his presence," said one of my mentors. Another said, "Never allow anyone ever to disrespect you, ever." Learning how to share reciprocally, to treasure both people and sharing seems a great skill. This is the arena of Empathy. Also learning how to respond to intentional or unintentional MasterTalk (either active or passive) is for me a treasured set of tools. As this tends to be a core problem in the United States, I will continue to speak about this one. 4)
Making your partner feel heard. Insisting that you get to feel heard. I am comfortable with the idea that all humans want and need to be heard and feel heard. For me to feel heard I think I have two choices: a) I can live in a fantasy world that everyone likes to listen to me like a radio talkshow host with no one on the phone, or b)the person in front of me is going to have to do some work. Tis not enough that they listen, they have to prove it or I am back to solution a, living in a fantasy.
But what work to they have to do to prove they are listening? Well this is an art that starts with discipline. People can learn this in lots of ways. I love Mirroring as a teaching tool. After you've Mirrored someone a couple of thousand times, you will at a gut level know what the work is and how to do it with almost not effort at all.
And remember this has to eventually be done reciprocally. If you listen to your partner and prove it, they will feel listened to. But if they won't listen to you or prove it, the relationship will fail. At about the time your resentment overflows. But if you both make each other feel heard, no resentment. Cool.5)
Here's time for the skills of PreValidating and Validating. Tis all Topic #4. Just become an expert is my advice. You can understand why anyone does anything if a) they tell you and b) you listen; cuz they all make sense all the time.
So the clue is to learn all the skills, get really good at them, and voila, you will be an expert communicator, I believe.