This is a GREAT practice that most of us could improve on!
If you find your communication isn’t going to well, go in with a PLAN. A plan can help you stay on track and it gives you a framework to follow instead of just letting your feelings take over.
In every communication, there’s two roles to play. One person is the speaker and one person is the listener. When we speak our basic objective is to have a message heard. This is a speaker’s responsibility too. While our speech is considered our most effective method of communication, we communicate by body language, gestures, tone, etc.
If you want to improve your communication, here’s the PLAN. It is based on Imago Therapy. Now this is a structure, so it’s going to feel confining. It’s supposed to! A structure keeps you contained. Isn’t that the point? If you are willing to do anything to save your relationship, this isn’t a big deal is it????
So, here’s the outline:
For the “Speaker”:
1. Make an appointment. Now this doesn’t have to be formal, but you should make sure it’s a good time and that your partner is willing to talk at that point. So many people sabotage a conversation by starting it right at bedtime when all their partner wants to do is sleep! How do you expect that to go???
So you ask, can we talk for a minute? Are you available to discuss something with me? This is a REQUEST not a DEMAND, so no reaction to feeling rejected, ask for a better time to do this.
Step 2 is state your topic succinctly and using nonviolent language. Focus on your feelings and don’t tell your partner’s story. Things to stay away from “you never”, “you always” and anything insulting. (Read more about nonviolent communication here.) Generally it’s a good idea to stay away from the word you at all. Remember writing things out is a great way to practice! Your goal is to be heard, this means avoiding triggering your partner’s defenses. Remember this is growth, so expect pain!
Step 3 is stay on topic. You can’t solve every issue. If you tend to be a kitchen sinker, time for a behavior change! Learn how to be really effective at this and you can resolve issues, but only one at a time.
Step 4 is to Thank your partner for listening
Now the Listeners have rules too! Rules for the listener:
Your rule #1--Listen only. No speaking. Don’t interrupt. If you feel something rising up in you that wants to retort, focus on the words your partner is saying.
Do you ever watch Judge Judy? Sometimes they have a case there between people who were in a relationship that’s now gone bad. One person starts talking and the other cannot control themselves, they speak out and interrupt. Judge Judy jumps in and says be quiet or you’ll be out of my courtroom. You can laugh about that and shake your head, but how often do we do the same thing to our partner? The only problem is we don’t have a Judge Judy to intervene, so our partner has to fight for their right to be heard. Pretend you have Judge Judy sitting in front of you.
The second rule for the listener is to mirror back what was heard. When the speaker is finished, you say, “What I heard you say was……(here you will paraphrase in your own words what you heard your partner say)”. You aren’t putting your assumptions in the mix; you aren’t agreeing. This is a fact based exchange. “I heard you say……”
Then rule #3 is to ask 2 specific questions. Did I get that right? To which the speaker will say “yes” or “no”. If the answer is no, the speaker can further clarify. After the clarification, the listener will again paraphrase and ask, “Did I get that right?”
The second question is, “Is there more?” The speaker will then respond “no” or “yes”. If the answer is yes, the speaker will continue to elaborate.
This process gets repeated for as long as the speaker needs to speak. If you stick to the one topic rule, then it shouldn’t take more than one or two times asking that question to get to the end. The speaker and the listener should agree that they are both understanding the issue from the speaker’s perspective at this point.
Rule #4 for the listener is to validate with empathy. Validation does not equate to agreement. Validation means if you really heard your partner, you can begin to see their perspective. You might demonstrate this by saying, “I can see why you’d feel that way because…..” or, “ I can see why you’d react in that way........” Developing empathy and validating your partner shows respect for their feelings. It doesn’t mean you think they are right or wrong.
Rule #5 for the Listener is to thank their partner for sharing. You can now repeat this process reversing roles, but the point is to hear each other, not to prove someone right or wrong.
Playing Alone???? What if your partner won’t go along with this? You can absolutely do this solo. Your partner might not follow the Listening rules when you’re talking, but you can follow the Speaker’s rules. You can listen better to your partner by following this outline. Either way, I’m betting things will go more smoothly in communication.
Remember, behind every complaint is a deep personal need. How will you discover what it is if you don’t listen well? If your relationship is going to change, you have to change. If you adopt some positive behaviors, your relationship will improve. Make a commitment to speak or listen according to this script for the next two weeks. I’m confident you’ll see some change in your relationship.
Follow the script for speaking and listening even if your partner isn’t playing with you. Use the script for either speaking or listening every day for the next two weeks. It’s one of those little changes that will have a big impact. If you get stuck or have questions, email me or come over to the forum.
Good luck and let me know if I can help!
I constantly encourage people to imagine looking at their thoughts as if from a distance,a 20,000 foot view. You’re looking down and there’s lots of space between our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It doesn’t seem like it when you’re in the midst of some strong emotion, but it’s true. We often feel that our behavior is directly tied to our feelings. In reality, we’ve all had a situation where we felt one way and we had to behave in another. For instance, if you ever had a boss that made you really angry, you might have held your tongue. You were probably able to control the impulse to act on that feeling.
We have to think about those three areas: thoughts, feelings, and behavior as separate areas that we can explore and use to influence each other. By mastering this, we have control over improving our experience. We can prevent mindless acting out of feelings which damages relationships.
In my opinion, our feeling world is difficult to control. Emotions are instinctual and they’re there to inform us. They are a kind of warning system. The word emotion actually means “to cause to move”. They want to move us away from an uncomfortable or dangerous situation and move us towards a place of comfort. So, when we’re happy, our feeling world communicates with the thinking world and we think, “Wow! How lucky I am,” or “How much fun I’m having”. Those thoughts lead to behaviors of smiling or singing. The thoughts, the feelings, and the behaviors are all acting congruently. The same is true if we have a negative feeling. If we feel hurt, the same process ensues. Our FEELINGS are hurt; we may THINK, “This person doesn’t really love me”. Then we BEHAVE by ignoring them. I’m sure none of you would ever do such a thing.
Both the good and the bad of emotions is they are instinctual. That also means they’re not rational or logical. So, the message they send to our thoughts and behaviors can be flawed. You have to know feelings are just feelings. They don’t necessarily speak the truth. Their meaning comes from us. A patient told me once that her feelings lied to her all the time. There is so much truth in that statement. I can be really angry and upset one day and the next day, it really doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve also really not been bothered at all by something until I started thinking about it! Feelings are the most changeable of these areas. Not a very reliable basis for making decisions.
While it is difficult to control the feeling world, it’s much easier to control the thoughts and behavior worlds. Our thoughts are sometimes irrational as well, but we can choose our focus and to add fuel to the feelings fire or squelch it. We can think thoughts to increase our feelings, whether bad or good, or we can shift our thoughts to ones that decrease those feelings. To use my earlier example of my partner hurting my feelings, I can think, “He doesn’t really love me,” or “He’s always trying to hurt my feelings in some way.” Those kinds of thoughts are going to increase my negative feeling, aren’t they? If my partner hurts my feelings and I think, “Well, he’s probably having a bad day and it’s nothing to do with me” or “You know, overall my partner is a pretty good guy, he’s just acting crabby today.” Those types of thoughts are going to make me feel more positively about the situation. I have control over that. It’s a lot easier to say that than to do, I understand, but when you recognize we have control of making ourselves feel better or worse, it’s really powerful.
All right, so what about those behaviors? Behaviors are exciting because thinking and feeling just happen a lot of times, but your behaviors are what wins the game! They are also 100% under your control! Your behavior world directly impacts these thoughts and feelings too. In the above scenario, I can behave in ways that are going to increase my discomfort. I can give him the silent treatment; I can do something to get him back; or I can act out in an angry way (yell and scream). Those behaviors all reinforce that negative feeling. On the other hand, I can decide to do something kind for my partner and this will lead my thoughts and feelings in that positive direction.
Have you ever heard that saying “fake it till you make it”? It refers to choosing behaviors that are good for you and, many times, just acting in a certain way will lead to the thoughts and the feelings coming along in that direction. As a matter of fact, I don’t think they have any choice; they absolutely have to come along. I think that as one of these areas moves in a certain direction, the other two areas move that direction also.
Many times my prescriptions are for behavior change because while thoughts and feelings are important, behaviors really do win or lose the game. When you consistently do loving behaviors, your thoughts and your feelings will eventually follow along.
I want to know resisting behavior change because you just didn’t FEEL like it is irrational. What if you chose to do the winning behavior, no matter how you felt? You’ll probably surprise your partner and you might even surprise yourself, too. So, focus on a behavior change that you’ve been avoiding. Can you make an effort to do it? You can just pick one; we don’t have to go hog wild here. Pick one and do it consistently and persistently, no matter how you feel as an experiment. See if it impacts your feelings and thoughts.
Let me know how it goes. Comment or email me at Allison@allisonvelez.com . It’d be great to hear from you!
This comes from a question that was submitted. I've generalized it a little bit for this blog. Ask me a question here.
A- Regret always comes from feeling that you didn’t make the best choice. Most of us make decisions based on the information we have at the time. Making a choice to get divorced may seem the very best option at the moment we make that choice. We should recognize though sometimes we allow our emotions to drive decisions. If you’ve looked at much of my information, then you know, emotions aren’t the best guides.
When I’m emotional about a situation, I’m reacting based on those emotions which can be very irrational. Try never to make a decision when you’re in the depth of emotion.
A midlife crisis can be a time of strong emotions and discontent which might drive someone to act on those feelings and later realize it was an emotional reaction and wish they had made a different choice.
Living in regret makes you feel kind of frozen which leaves you stuck. If you regret your decision, you may be able to make it right, but there’s the possibility you won’t also. If you can’t, then accept the situation, acknowledge that you made a mistake and take some learning from it. If you can’t move on, contact a professional who can help guide you through it.
I divorced early in my life after 10 years of marriage and I wished it hadn’t happened. Maybe that is regret. At the time, I couldn’t have continued, but I wish we’d been able to find the tools to make it work. In my current marriage, my past experience has taught me to keep looking for the tools to connect. So, can I really regret something that helped me grow so significantly? I don’t think I can.
You may have to find a way to move on and looking for something to appreciate about the situation is going to help you get there.
Hope that helps,
Security is a primal need that relationships fulfill....unless they don't!
Learn some ways to navigate these challenges.
As always, let me know how it's going! I'd love to hear from you and help if I can.
of times, I have people say, “I want us to get back to where we used to be.” Those are all pretty big goals.
What happens when a goal seems out of reach? When we look at it and it seems impossible. Fighting less might seem like a great goal, but what are the steps it takes to get there? Do you know the steps? If you knew and could do the steps, wouldn’t you have already done them?
When we start doing these little steps, we get frustrated because we feel we should be at the goal already. We feel shame and blame we’re not meeting what we see as our desired outcome. We also fail sometimes. I can’t tell you how many couples are making good progress and they slip and have a huge row and they feel like they’ve lost all the progress they’ve made. All that can make us give up and stop going for it. It seems like an exercise in futility, it’s too difficult, or we just aren’t capable of doing it.
Well, I’d like to reassure you. When the end game seems impossible, it’s time to focus on the process, not the outcome.
Using a football analogy here: If your desired outcome is to win the Super Bowl, but your team has not learned to run a play yet, you better focus on running the play! Not only do you need to learn to run the play but you need to become great at it! You are going to run that play over and over until it’s second nature. You’re going to know that play inside and out. At first, the play is going to be awkward. At first, the whole team isn’t going to be good at it. There’s going to be a lot of failures in making the play. But eventually, your team runs a great play! They win a game, then another and before you know it you’re a Super Bowl contender. That outcome that seemed so impossible is now within reach. But only after you’ve mastered the process.
There’ve been times in my relationship when I’ve felt happiness wasn’t possible. I didn’t think it’d ever happen again. That seemed like an outcome that was too much to hope for.
Turning that around took a focus on the process. The processes of a happy relationship, (I call the pillars) are compassion, communication and commitment. Making the little decisions every day that align with these qualities is what got me closer to the end goal. I had to be kind when I didn’t want to be. I had to decide to stay just one more day when it would have felt great to walk out. Talking about things that made me vulnerable created intimacy little by little. I focused on the process because I didn’t know how to get to the outcome I wanted. I was so far away from it, I needed a telescope.
By paying attention to the process, I moved closer and closer, with consistency and persistence, until I could see happiness on the horizon. I tried to stay focused on my own behaviors, not my partners. By continuing on, we’ve found our way to a place of happiness I don’t think we ever imagined. We’ve now passed our 20th anniversary and we enjoy each other more now than we ever did. Do we still disagree? Yes. Do we still annoy each other? Yes. We fail all the time. But we focus on the process.
Practice time: What is your desired outcome? What processes do you need to get there? It’s the little things you practice every day that lead you to winning. What is one process you can commit to today? Consistency and persistence are mandatory!
Let me know what you decided. Comment below, I’d love to hear from you!
Focusing on the process,
One of the shifts I like to facilitate with the couples I work with is recognizing how all of our behaviors have the intention of either expressing love or asking for love.If you can imagine this is true: all of our behaviors are either an expression of love or a cry for love. This is a concept presented by Marianne Williamson which is definitely a different way of looking at things. Try to allow the thought that even the most horrible things you can think of or a cray for love or in some way an expression of love. Shifting your perspective, just a bit, to consider another person’s motivation (even if you don’t understand it) can allow a space for empathy to grow. How is this person’s actions an act of love or a cry for love?
If my husband gets upset and yells at me for not doing the laundry…….Is that a cry for love I hear? He perceives my doing the laundry as an act of love. When I don’t do it, he perceives it as a lack of love. He starts to get concerned that he’s not loved by me. He starts asking for that love. In this scenario, he’s asking by getting angry and yelling. If my response is to yell back, I am also crying for love. My perception is when someone yells at you, they don’t love you, so it scares me when I hear him yell. I start to ask for love.
I’ll tell you a true story about myself and my husband. We’ve been married now for over 20 years and we usually get along very well now. It hasn’t always been the case, but now it’s good. A while back, I was visiting him at his job location. An argument came up because he had arranged for his employees to clean out a building that had been taken over by local people and it was used as a goat shed. So, imagine a building that has doubled as a goat shed for many years. Where there are goats, there is goat crap. His job was to have his guys clean this place out. Inadvertently, his boss came and gave his guys the day off after he had arranged for equipment and access to have the goat shed cleaned on this one specific day. Now his boss gave all his man-power the day off. He decided he was going to clean the goat poop out of the shed himself. I was very opposed to this. I didn’t think that he should be cleaning the goat crap out alone; I thought that he should rearrange the schedule. He had other things he was responsible for and cleaning a goat shed was not a priority for him. He became very stubborn and maintained that he would just do it himself. I was arguing with him that this was not a good use of his time, etcetera. Finally I said, ”You know what, you’re going to do what you want to do so go for it.” We just let it die between us. At some point later I was playing around with this idea of every action either being an expression of love or a cry for love. My mind went back to that conversation and I identified my behavior was expression of love ultimately. I was taking up for him and trying to help him see a different priority. So here he was, spending a whole day of his time doing something that his guys could have easily have done in a few hours and he was going to spend a whole day doing this alone. I brought it up to him that this was really an expression of my love for him. He was very surprised to think of it this way because he sure didn’t feel loved during that argument. He felt kind of beat up on actually.
Just like our partner’s expressions and cries for love sometimes don’t sound that way to us, ours lose their effect too. It’s our responsibility to make sure that our message gets across. We have to take a good look at our interactions and try to dig underneath to make them more authentically express what we’re really feeling on the inside.
Sometimes when our partners are kind of beating up on us a little bit, or fussing or complaining about something, they might also be expressing or asking for love. If we can we take a step back from what feels like a personal attack and explore what message of love is really there. It’s something to think about wrap your brain around. Analyze some of the past conflicts you’ve had with your partner. Can you decipher whether it’s a cry for love or an expression of love? This can go a long way to healing rifts in your relationship.
Can you more clearly ask for love or express it? If I get aggravated at my husband for working late all week, I can approach him in hurt anger. Or I can say I’m angry because I’m disappointed and I don’t feel very important to him. I can approach him and say, “I’ve really missed you this week, can we have a date night this weekend?” Which approach will get me what I really want? He’s going to respond much better to the latter approach isn’t he? My communication isn’t layered under insecurity.
Complaints you have with your partner (or that your partner has with you) are usually a cry for love in some way. This should help you look more closely and communicate more clearly. Being understood and understanding more is a winning behavior.
Practice time: Analyze some of your interactions. Can you link it back to a cry for love or an expression of love? If you can’t, send me the scenario and I bet I can help you see it.
Springtime: The early, falling in love part of a relationship correlates with spring. Everything is beautiful and full of promise and hope. There’s the promise of what’s yet to come, what’s going to grow there. It’s easy to be excited and happy in this stage.
Summer: After spring comes summer. That’s a glorious time of growth. That’s the season of a relationship when we commit fully to each other and start to build lives that are intertwined. This may be the season of having children, or career focus, but, the warmth of summer expands us and kind of opens us up to everything that life has to offer.
Fall: Then you move into fall. Fall is typically a time of harvest and gathering in. It can be a really beautiful time with the lovely colors that we enjoy so much about autumn. Underneath this lovely autumness, something is decaying. We don’t notice because we’re distracted by the loveliness that fall holds. The cooler temperatures in the fall also cause us to gather inside or layer up, becoming protective of ourselves. Conflict and stressors in our relationship tempt us into defending ourselves from each other as well. We close ourselves off and start to create coolness when we enter into the “fall” of a relationship. The aloofness inside our most important relationships can sometimes be a signal that something is changing there, dying maybe and we need to pay close attention to that.
Winter: When winter is upon us, the cold weather becomes nearly unbearable. If we’re going to venture out in winter then we really have to protect ourselves. Even in approaching our partner there may be hostilities that are at a crescendo. Maybe we’ve withdrawn so far we can’t even find our partner in the chill of winter. But, there’s another aspect of winter that we can call into play. It’s also a time of warming up by the fireplace or sipping hot cocoa snuggled up under a warm blanket with someone that you love. A season of winter can be a time of reconnection and we know it’s going to lead to a new spring.
Just like the seasons demonstrated by nature, our relationship is going to move through these cycles. If we recognize this, we can rest assured that winter leads to fall and it doesn’t necessarily signal the end of a relationship.
We often get into those fall and winter times when our relationship isn’t as close and we see it as the death of the relationship. Winter is when we leave relationships because we feel there’s nothing there, nothing green left there. In winter it’s all covered up with snow. If you didn’t know better when you looked around in winter, you’d think everything is dead. But, our life experiences now tell us if we wait it out, grass will start to come up again in the spring. So, the same thing can be true when we sow into or nurture our relationships. We can grow through those cold times.
Practice time: What season is your relationship in? Are you allowing the season to grow your relationship, or are you looking at it only from what it appears to be on the surface? Ask yourself honestly those questions and, how can you make the most of the season that you’re in? You know, there are seasons, there are tasks to do with every season in nature as well as in our relationships. There are seasons to sow into; seasons to defend, protect, go within, and turn towards each other. How can you make the most of the season that you’re in? If you’re willing to share, make a comment below and tell us what season your relationship seems to be in. Remember, every season has it’s own beauty because even conflict is an opportunity to grow. How are you going to make the most of this season?
Let me know how it’s going with you! Email me here.
Our experience is made up of what we think, how we feel and how we behave. Learn how these facets impact each other and how to change them to improve your relationship.
Let me know what you think! If you have any questions, I'd love to hear from you. Email me!
A Thai feast I shared with my family when we visited Thailand a few years ago.
A while back, I heard this phrase and it stuck with me. I can’t attribute it to its proper author, but I heard it from Brian Johnson over at Philosopher’s notes. If you haven’t heard of Brian, he has a YouTube channel where he summarizes all sorts of motivational and inspirational books from the very old to the very new. I really appreciated this one phrase and our relationships could benefit from this practice.
When things are going great, we just float along like there’s no effort to be done. But when things are going poorly, we pull out all the stops to turn it around. It would be great to shift this way of thinking. When things are going great, we need to drink it in, soak it up, and amplify it! Use the good times to solidify the foundation of our relationship, and that my friends will carry us through the bad times.
How exactly can we feast on success? I came up with a few ways:
1. Be present. When things are going well, stay in this moment. That doesn’t mean that you avoid issues because you don’t want to rock the boat. That means you don’t play the negative past over in your head or talk about history when you can’t change anything about it. Maybe you’ve even agreed to leave it in the past, yet still you live there! You can’t enjoy the present if you’re bound up in the past.
You also can’t enjoy the present if you’re worried about the future. There’s a lot of value in planning your future. In fact that can be great team building for you and your partner. But worrying about whether your partner will be there for you or how you’re going to handle your in laws next Christmas takes you away from the present.
2. Acknowledge it. Talk to your partner about it. Tell your partner how happy you are about how things are going at the moment. Sometimes you might have to just feast on a conversation that went on without an argument. What’s wrong with saying, “It makes me so happy when we can talk without getting into an argument. I look forward to many more times like that with you.” When you feel good about it and you make sure your partner knows it, it increases and amplifies the positive emotions.
We are geared to acknowledge the negative in our culture. It’s usually not our nature to go around recognizing the positive. Our brains are geared to solve problems which predisposes us to look for them. Changing the way you look at the world may take some effort and time on your part. But acknowledging more positive is only going to make you happier.
3. Reminisce. While it might seem beneficial to play over negative past situations, it’s really not that helpful. However, playing over some positive situations can be very helpful. Talking about good times or about troubles that you overcame as a couple can be reassuring to each other when the going is rough. Remembering times you acted as a team or truly enjoyed each other, brings up those feelings of support and bonding.
4. Focus on the Success. Immerse yourself (or feast) on success. Don’t let feelings of failure be your focus. If you see failure, take it as a successful learning lesson. Fill your thoughts up with success and let your behaviors reflect those of someone in a successful relationship.
Feast, or gorge, yourself on success. If you’re going to be successful, you have to think, feel and behave in successful ways.
Where in your relationship are you starving in the land of failure? Are you feasting on that? Can you see a way of turning that around? What behavior, thought or feeling needs to change for you?
If you’re in a good season in your relationship, how can you amp that up? How can you use some of these suggestions to further strengthen your relationship?
Practice time: pick something that you can feast on, acknowledge, reminisce about or focus on and do it today and every day.
Leave me a comment about what you’re willing to do to create a relationship you love. As always, email me if I can help. Nothing’s going to change unless it’s you!