Communication is the life tool with which we may create and strengthen our relationships, and relationships are all about emotional safety and meaningful connections.
Communication is a tool like no other. Whether verbal or nonverbal, it is to your emotional and mental health, and relationships, what food and water are to your body. You may be wondering, if talking is such a “loving” activity why do you experience so much pain in your communications with one of the most important persons in your life, your partner?
Communication is not the problem; the real problem is allowing your subconscious minds to communicate in your defense, rather than communicating in conscious, deliberate ways that grow you personally because they energize life in your relationship. Just as we cannot not communicate, we cannot not relate. Therefore, it is not a question of whether or not communicate, rather a question of how you relate when you communicate.
How has to do with the emotional signals you are sending, distinct messages about how you feel about one another that either enhance or diminish the quality of your couple relationship. You may not be consciously aware of these signals, however, your subconscious mind is, and hypervigilantly so in situations where it thinks you perceive a threat or danger.
Alas, you are your partner are wired to seek fulfillment in the giving and receiving of your gifts of love. At the same time, you are also wired with a drive that propels you to seek to be known, recognized and valued as a unique individual. This is part of your quest for meaning and purpose in life.
Thus, the strivings for a deeper connection, on the one hand, and the strivings for being valued as unique being, on the other, create a natural tension in our relationships, seemingly pulling and pressing from opposite directions.
Okay, the details may be different, but overall do you get into a scripted dialogue in which you can guess what your partner is going to say or do in reaction to something you say?
(Most likely, by the way, your partner likely feels the same way too.)
The stuck feelings seem all too familiar to couples in a relationship. Like others, both of you likely wonder, at times, whether there’s a chance of ever getting the love, understanding, acceptance, appreciation, romance, etc., you want. You know, the feelings you had at the start of your relationship. It seems you’ve tried everything. Is it too much to ask to feel valued, important — and connected — in your relationship?
1. Turn any criticisms into clear requests
Think of words as emotion-activating agents, and reframe criticisms into requests to produce high- rather than low-energy emotional states in your self and others. Brain fact: Low energy emotions (fear-based) block creative thinking to the extent they intensify, and even worse, activate our automatic defense strategies. When this happens, high levels of cortisol turn off our brain’s learning mode, which may explain why we stop listening when we feel attacked. Rather than saying,”You’re always angry and on the attack,” say the following: “Speak to me in a voice that lets me know you love me when you’re upset.”
2. Describe problems in solution focused language.
Use words to craft that reframe a stubborn problem in solution terms to give your self and others a fresh and energizing perspective. Brain fact: The images that positive action-oriented language energizes in our brain produce action-activating emotions emotion-command neural circuitry and associations that can move us to take action more easily and effortlessly. In contrast, problem-focused language can leave us feeling de-energized, in a rut or states of boredom, which can seem “real” after prolonged use, however, they are simply habits — neural associations — that we have subconsciously formed, stored and reinforced over a period of time. This means they can be unlearned. Rather than “You always leave me to do everything,” say “It’s a privilege to care for our house. I want to do my part to make sure you do not miss out on the great feelings of taking part as a team member in caring for our house.”
3. Replace judgements with curiosity.
Stir thoughts that spawn curiosity instead of criticisms or harsh judgments of yourself or others. Brain fact: Whereas criticisms tend to demotivate and keep us stuck in old thinking and behavior patterns (emotion-command neural circuits that activate fear), curiosity motivates us toward …
In Part 1, we considered three areas of the brain that work together to produce feel-good chemicals, and that, depending on the circumstances, can literally alter our emotional states of body and mind to the point of putting our ability to make choices (personal power) out of reach. The automatic release of this chemical mix can lead us to making poor and potentially dangerous decisions, and even worse, form an addictive habit or pattern.
To retain our choice making capacity, it helps to understand that a key underlying issue in relationships, based on decades of research on attachment and intimacy, is the connection.
Our early relationships are particularly formative. It is in early years that our brains form structures that, absent a change causing event, subconsciously, serve as reference points for relating to self and others throughout life.
Parents are often provided what-to-do-or-not-do lists to promote healthy child development, less often is the focus on the quality of emotional presence parents can bring, at any given time, to interactions with their children. In this post, we discuss two of five states of being, or “BE’S,” that parents can use as guidelines to nurture healthy relating capacity in children.
Because our mind-body refers to these early structures automatically, how we parent makes a difference. When we were children, for example, our parents’ brains subconsciously set parameters in what emotions we “should’ or “shouldn’t” feel or express, according to their own taboos and belief systems.
Emotions are central to attachment, and based on their effects on our autonomic nervous system, they fall primarily in one of two categories, love or fear in varying intensity. In other words, they are either overall stabilizing or destabilizing.
Perhaps no relationship is more intense, complex and challenging in its ability to discombobulate our otherwise healthy ability to think clearly and intelligently, make sound choices and engage common sense.
When our bids for connection with our partner fail to elicit the caring response we yearn for inside, our body’s autonomic nervous system activates distress signals, whether we’re aware of them or not.
Attachment is about the actual and perceived outcomes of our attempts to get closer or connect with a loved one. It can be as simple as asking for time together, seeking some level of understanding, or saying “Hi,” these bids for connection, and our responses to them, shape and are shaped by our perceived sense of the quality of connection we realize.
And yet, even when we know we’ve acted wrongly, something inside blocks us from saying so or taking action to make amends. More often, that something is a set of beliefs we hold that act as excuses.
Excuses are often assumptions that, whether conscious or subconscious, block us from taking action. Here are ten most frequent ones.
1. I’ll be seen as a bad person and not appreciated for the good things I’ve done.
This excuse also distracts us from directly resolving an issue. It focuses our attention on our fears, in particular the fear of not fulfilling our yearnings to matter and to feel we contribute value in our relationships.
A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science found that partners’ early childhood attachment styles impacted their ability to recover from conflict in their adult couple relationships. Partners with secure attachment styles in childhood tended to be more resilient and recover faster.
The research studied the early attachment styles of 73 participants from birth and, over a two year span, measured their conflict recovery styles, emotional wellbeing, relationship satisfaction and their relationship stability. The ability of partners to rebound after conflict seems to depend on each partner’s personal attachment style as an infant.
That’s huge. For one, this tells us how key the formation of healthy relationships is to our wellbeing throughout life.
What is Attachment?
Attachment refers to the quality of our first emotional connection to our primary caregivers, more often, the relating pattern between the child and mother.
In Part 1, power was described as an ongoing choice regarding the type of energy (emotion) we activate in and around us. It is not power that has a particular effect, however, rather what we believe power is, which directly impacts how we exercise, handle or respond to one another’s personal power, i.e., actions, choices, and so on.
The view of power we hold, either as a capacity to make optimally creative choices, or an ability to be in control over our own power (choices) or another’s, dramatically changes our behaviors, feelings, wants, goals, and so on. It also produces radically different outcomes.
Defining power as a mere ability or right to dominate, to impose or to force one’s will on another is a limiting view of power. Even worse, it can be toxic to our relationships and our health.
This limiting view also hides multiple healthy-dimensions of power as a creative and energizing force, for example, one that can be used to foster mutual caring, empower creativity and personal transformation, among other positive outcomes.