If you are like me, you were probably never taught how to communicate assertively, how to handle conflict in relationships, how to express your feelings and everything else around communication. Or maybe you did and you are one of the lucky ones. I had to teach myself through reading about non-violent communication and training in the Safe Conversations method. You might be wondering what that is. Well, it’s a method developed by the esteemed relationship experts Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, an approach that revolutionizes how we communicate, fostering safety and understanding in our interactions. Harville and Helen are a married couple and therapists themselves who were constantly fighting and on the verge of a divorce, however, they decided to work on it and developed a method to communicate safely, thus saving their relationship.
In my practice I work with a lot of couples who come to me for various reasons, however, miscommunication and bad communication is always one of the ingredients. We tend not to be very versed handling conflict in relationships, not just in loving relationships but also at work causing stress, pain and lots of frustration. We are terrible listeners too! Let’s look at a typical interaction:
1) A arrives home looking upset and says something to B (A is agitated, not centered) and blames B for how s/he is feeling.
2) B immediately guards him/herself because s/he is feeling attacked and consequently stops listening, looking for evidence that A is wrong, and/or looking for when the other does the same. The person wants to attack the other one back.
This could look something like this:
A says: “You make me feel like s**t. You never call me to let me know what you’re doing. You are abandoning me.”
B says: “What are you on about? Do you inform me of your whereabouts? The other day you disappeared for a whole day without saying anything. How do you think that made me feel?”
The interaction continues to escalate, both of them looking for things to blame the other. No one is taking responsibility for themselves. It’s like watching a tennis game - let’s see who wins the point! Temperature rises, respect is lost, fear is present, no one is listening and understanding what’s going on. Unfortunately, this is more common than not.
You might be wondering how using Safe Conversations would change the above example. I will summarize it here:
A says: “Are you available to talk now? I’d like to share something with you.”
B says: “I see. I am finishing this email. Can you give me 10’? I’ll be with you then.”
A says: “Sure. I’ll be in the living room.”
B: “I am ready now. Tell me.”
A: “I’ve noticed I feel really sad and upset when I don’t know where you are.”
B: “Let me see if I got that: you say you feel sad and upset when you don’t know where I am. Did I get that?
B: “Is there more to that?”
A: “Yes, actually. I’ve realized I feel abandoned and it reminds me of when my parents used to leave the house for hours. I was very young.”
B: “Ok, let me see if I got that. You say that you feel abandoned because it takes you back to when you were very young and your parents left you alone for hours. Did I get that?
B: “Is there anything else?”
A: “No, that’s it.”
B: “Ok, let me recap. You say that you feel very upset when I leave and you don’t know where I am; you feel abandoned because it reminds you of when your parents left you alone for hours as a young child.”
A: “Yes! Exactly that!”
B: “I totally understand how you must have felt as a child and I can see how you bring that into the present and feel upset when I don’t tell you where I am. It must’ve been so scary as a kid, not knowing! What would you need from me?”
A: “It would be helpful for me to know where you are. I am working on this with my therapist too.”
It probably sounds weird and very scripted, but believe me, it works! With some practice and willingness to take responsibility of our feelings, we can totally transform the way we handle conflict. If you’d like to try something different, I will be teaching this at my retreat starting on July 16 near Santarem. Let’s transform the way we communicate with each other!
For more information contact Therapy Sweet Therapy on +34 659 126 877.