32. Communication is Key
In today’s podcast episode, I want to talk about communication in relationships. In the previous podcast, we covered relationship advice, and one of the most important pieces of advice was communication and the importance of communication. Now I really want to deconstruct how to communicate correctly with your partner in a way that makes both people feel heard, understood, and safe. I’m going to mention three different techniques.
The very first one I’m sure is going to be familiar to you already. If it’s not, then I’m really glad that you’re listening to this podcast. The first tool is to use feeling words and to talk about yourself rather than using the word “you” or using the other person’s name. Instead of projecting the blame on somebody, it allows them to see how you are hurting and you are feeling inside. If I came up to you and I said, “You keep stressing me out and you keep doing this and it’s making me so angry.” If I just said, “I feel upset about this because of X, Y, Z,” it changes the way that the message is received in the other person’s brain. They no longer feel attacked and like they have to put up these defenses, and it’s more likely that they’re going to feel the sense of empathy for you and the emotions and the difficulties that you’re going through.
The second tool I recommend is saying the following thing: “The story I’m telling myself is,” and then whatever it is. This actually came from Brene Brown who is a researcher who talks about relationships and intimacy and how this is one of the most important things for human connection. She was talking about how she was swimming in a lake with her husband and they were both following after their children who were also swimming there. Her husband was way ahead of her and closer to their children and she kept trying to scream to him and talk to him in the lake, but he was too far ahead and wasn’t really listening to her. He was concerned because he was looking after the kids and the night before he had a nightmare that the kids ended up dying basically, or getting hurt, or were about to be hurt by a boat, and so he was really preoccupied when he saw the kids swimming in the lake that they were going to get hurt.
She was behind him and she was feeling insecure about her inability to keep up with his swimming speed and maybe even her appearance and how she looked in her swimsuit. The story she was telling herself was that her husband wasn’t interested in her in that way anymore because he saw how slow she was or how she looked in her swimsuit and suddenly lost interest. When he was basically ignoring what she was saying as she was screaming off to him trying to connect with him, she was telling herself that he didn’t love her that way anymore and he was telling himself that the kids were going to die and it was going to be his fault.
When they got out of the water, she was freaking out. But instead of just spouting out and being upset, she said, “The story I’m telling myself is that you don’t like what you see after all these years of marriage, of me in my bathing suit and I can’t keep up with you.” It’s a moment of true vulnerability and intimacy where she’s putting out all of her insecurities and showing him, “This is what I think is happening. This is the story that I’m telling myself.” You’re asking for a confirmation from your partner. “Is that what’s really going on?” Because a lot of the times the things that we tell ourselves or the story that’s running through our mind is actually way different than reality or what’s running through the other person’s mind. When two people have a misunderstanding about what’s happening, then they start communicating and they’re actually talking about completely different things. It can be really helpful to start off your communication with this so that you know that you’re on the same page and talking about the same issue.
The third and most important tool is coming from a book called Getting the Love You Want. It shows us a structure for how to approach communication in a way that makes our partner feel safe, understood, and validated. The very first step to addressing a difficult issue or really any issue is to make an appointment with the person that you’re speaking with. If you want to talk to your husband or your wife, instead of just going up to them and starting to talk to them whenever you want to, why don’t you ask them if it’s a good time to have a conversation? Because you have to remember one of the key elements here is that your partner is living their own life. They have their own movie going on in their head. They have their own perception, their own thoughts, their own problems. If you come up and impose your problems on them at that moment, even if they’re shared problems, it might not be well received because it might be a bad time. They might be preoccupied with something else going on in their mind.
One of the key things is to make sure it’s a good time for both of you and not just you. You make an appointment. You them if it’s a good time to talk. If not, they’ll say no. But they should also say when it’s a good time to talk. Maybe in an hour. Maybe tomorrow morning. This creates a sense of reliability and safety. It also makes the person feel like they can come to you no matter what and you’re not just going to be hurt or rejected by that person.
The second step of this structure is to talk to say how you feel to get everything off of your chest. At this point, you’re partner will mirror everything you’re saying with accuracy. They will resume or summarize everything that you just said, trying to be as accurate as possible. According to the author of this book, your brain really only retains about 13% of what is coming into it, so 13% of what you’re hearing is actually being stored and processed. Because of this, it’s easy to see why communication would break down. It’s important to mirror what they’re saying and repeat what they’re saying to make sure that you do have everything that they’re trying to communicate, that nothing is being skewed or being left out. You can repeat what they’re saying in an accurate way and ask them, “Did I get it?” If they didn’t, you will say, “Oh, you missed this part,” or, “That was about a third of what I said. Here’s what I also said,” or, “Here’s what you missed.” This will ensure that you feel completely heard before you move on to the next step.
Then the third step is a partner that was listening will then ask you, “Is there more about that?” They’re asking you to go deeper. Instead of just taking the reins and taking control of the conversation, instead of being defensive or trying to make themselves look better, they actually have a chance to allow you to feel relaxed and dive deeper because they’re interested in what you’re saying and they’re interested in how you feel. At this point, a lot of people actually discover that there’s more underneath the surface than they originally planned on saying. It allows you to find things that are deep within yourself and it allows a greater sense of intimacy and vulnerability between the two of you because you can reach these profound places by giving each other the space to talk about things that otherwise you never would have had the time and space to discuss.
There’s not this competition to talk. It’s not who’s going to talk next or who’s going to defend themselves. It’s allowing a flow of conversation that makes the other person feel heard and understood. Then, again you’re going to ask if you got it all and summarize what they said. If you did, the last step would be to validate how they felt. Tell them that what they’re saying makes sense, that they are a logical person and that you can see their point of view. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with what they’re saying. It means that you can understand where they’re coming from and why they think or feel the way that they do. Giving this person a sense of validation will make them feel human. It will make them feel understood. Even this act alone can resolve a variety of problems that can arise.
Sometimes it’s not so much about fixing the issue itself as it is about expressing your feelings about an issue and having the person receive those and understand them and validate how you feel. Of course, sometimes you will also need to solve a problem, but sometimes even just reaching this step is enough to do that. This is a really wonderful way to communicate back and forth. After one person has finished, the other person can start. The most important thing is that it brings that sense of safety and security with your partner. You know that they will listen. You know that they will make time for you. You know that they will truly hear, understand, and validate you. These are qualities in a relationship that are so necessary in order to feel like you can move forward and in order to open up and be as vulnerable and intimate as possible.
It’s this intimacy that humans are really craving for now because it’s so hard to find this. It’s so hard to find somebody that you can feel really comfortable opening up with. This also allows you to give your partner a chance to show themselves. Instead of assuming that you know them, assuming that you know how they feel, how they would react, or what they want, or who they are, it allows them to unfold or bloom like a flower and show everything that’s deep within them. I really hope that this was helpful for you guys. If so, log into wonderinenglish.com and leave a comment there about what you think. Now stay tuned for an explanation of all the vocab I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast.
To take something apart and examine it in order to understand how it works. This is used figuratively. For example, we’re deconstructing the process of communication in order to understand where communication might break down and how to solve that.
Projection is a psychological coping mechanism in which you put the blame on other people for doing things that you do. For example, I could get really upset with my mom for always spending more money than she has even though I’m the one who is a spendthrift.
The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.
Worried about something or busy with something.
|Validated (to feel validated)|
To make some feel validated is to show that you support their truth and you recognize it.
|Impose (on) |
To force (something unwelcome or unfamiliar) to be accepted or put in place.
|Mirror (verb)||To reflect back|
|Skew (what someone says) |
To skew what someone says is to twist it and change what they said in a way that it no longer accurately represents what they intended.
To make sure
Deep and meaningful
To crave something is to desire something
|Bloom (like a flower)|
A flower blooms in the Spring, meaning it opens ups and is at its fullest. We’re using this figuratively to talk about a person opening up to show their truest self.
Idioms and Collocations
|(Something is) stressing me out|
This is the collocation we use to show that something is stressing us. It sounds more natural to say you’re stressed out than to say you’re stressed.
|Interested in someone “that way”|
This is a very common collocation we use to say that we’re not interested in someone romantically or sexually.
To freak out is to be very upset and disturbed by something and react in a strong, often emotional, way. It can also be positive, however. For example, I could say I was freaking out after I found out I won the lottery. You’re just experiencing a strong wave of emotions here.
|On the same page||To see eye to eye or agree with someone about something|
|Come to someone (for something)|
This means they approach you to talk about something that’s often sensitive or important. For example, I want my kids to come to me with any issues they have.
|To get (everything) off your chest|
To express or talk about something that’s been weighing on you and going around your mind.
|Take the reins|
Take control of something. For example, you can take the reins on a project or a conversation. The reins refer to the leather ropes that control a horse’s head when you’re riding it.
1. What is your communication advice for relationships?
2. Do you like to take the reins in difficult conversations, let your partner do it, or you both talk equally?
3. What do you think of this communication technique called Imago?