Communicating Courageously

When someone deeply listens to you
It is like holding out a dented cup you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with cold, fresh water.
When it balances on the top of the brim, you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin, you are loved…
When someone deeply listens to you,
Your bare feet are on the earth,
And a beloved land that seemed distant,
Is now at home within you.

Poetry by John Fox

We are most often asked to help couples with communication. This is because all of us crave to be connected with one another in loving, kind and non-wounding ways. Our intensive retreats and group workshops are a wonderful “laboratory” for learning new communication tools and practicing those in a safe respectful environment where you can get a lot of help to change old habits. We are dedicated to helping you create passion and aliveness through your communication, as well as giving you problem solving and decision making skills!

Couples are always communicating.
Whether verbally or non verbally, in physical proximity or not, we are always in some sort of communication with each other. You may not think this is true, but even silence, or no contact, is a way of communicating. As human beings, we need safe, loving relationships where we receive support, a deep sense of security and emotional nourishment. The research on attachment and bonding tells us that we feel braver, happier, more confident, and our immune systems are stronger, as a result of secure interdependent connections.

Why then, does communication break down? Why do so many couples come to our offices and say, “we don’t communicate”?

Hardwired into our brain throughout our evolution is the need for warmth, affection, and emotional responsiveness. In a word: LOVE. This loving between humans is an enormous key to our survival. We respond to abandonment and isolation as danger. In practical terms this translates into some very basic questions that we, in the western world especially, carry deep inside: “Are you there for me”, “Do I matter to you?” “Do you know how much I love and need you?” “Will you be able to respond to me?” When the answers to these questions are mostly “I am here; I love you” or “We are in this together” or “I want to hear your needs, and will be here with you”, we respond with a sense of emotional safety. We feel as if we “belong”, we are connected. Our flight and fight response relaxes, and we open our hearts. When we consistently receive a negative or threatening response to our vulnerable questions, we shut down and feel endangered.

The Fight And Flight Response Causes Communication To Break Down

When we experience our partner as threatening, we are likely to shut down, withdraw, or go on the attack. The perception, real or imagined, that our partner is not meeting our needs (whether it’s being sensitive, engaged, polite, doing things for us, having more sex…whatever…) will usually evoke what we call the power struggle.

The Power Struggle
When partners take the position of “I’m right and you’re wrong” we have a
No- win communication. (See more in the section on conflict). Connection is ruptured, good will decreases, and anger and resentment increase. Chronic stress is often the result, which breeds more resentment, and often causes partners to give up. The end game is something like this: “He/she just can’t communicate; we fight all the time; I’m exhausted; I can’t go on like this.”

Building Emotional Safety and Respect
We believe, that as adults, we must learn to practice attitudes and behaviors towards our partner, and ourselves that engender safety, relaxation and pleasure. From our perspective, this is a choice. Human beings are born with the capacity to be kind and loving. Surely, there are patterns, traumas, and personality traits that get in our way. But we are smart, resourceful creatures and can learn to be relationally skillful. In our group and individual settings couples learn to focus inwardly and reduce anxiety about listening and speaking. This builds emotional safety between partners and deepens the conversation so intimacy can grow.

Empathy is a Mindfulness Practice
Ever since the 1950s people have been developing models for powerful, effective communication. You can find hundreds of self-help books on the subject. We are simply going to share with you a few principles and tools that we use, and teach our clients. They have been powerful for us.

Empathy is the capacity we all have for putting ourselves in the shoes of another person and being able to understand what they are going through. Some people don’t have well developed empathy because it was never modeled and they were never taught how to care for others. Here’s how to practice empathy:

  1. Adopt an attitude of curiosity & compassion
  2. Create a sense within yourself of positive regard for the other
  3. Make Eye contact
  4. Keep your body relaxed
  5. Avoid interrupting
  6. Let go of judgments & interpretations
  7. Paraphrase what you hear at appropriate intervals in the conversation.
  8. Understand that you don’t have to agree or like what you’re hearing; but you can wrap your mind around what it’s like in the other person’s world.

Learn to Speak To Your Partner Skillfully
If, we as partners do not identify and communicate our real feelings to each other, we cut off contact with ourselves, and our ability to connect passionately with each other. The result is usually:

  1. Less sex & intimacy
  2. Less overall satisfaction
  3. Less friendship
  4. Less emotional safety
  5. Less support for our normal insecurities and fears.
  6. A narrowed connection.

Step 1. Speak about yourself using the pronoun I. Making I statements is

  1. Empowering
  2. Clarifying
  3. Connecting
  4. Self revealing
  5. Vulnerable
  6. Open Hearted

Example: ‘I feel happy when I’m with you’, instead of “you feel happy when you’re with someone you like”.

Step 2. Build a vocabulary of feelings and experience so you can talk about who you are, with more depth.

Feelings are sensations in the body; they give us information about what’s happening inside us. The six basic feelings are: Sad, Mad, Glad, Afraid, Excited, and Ashamed.

In the English language we can simply say “I am irritated”, I am hurt, I am sad. We can also say, “I feel irritated”, or “I feel sad”. You will probably experience good feelings and a sense of deeper connection to your partner once you are at ease with expressing your true feelings directly.

To be fluent in the language of feelings you must learn to:

  1. Notice the sensations in your body:
  2. “ tight, warm, open, quivery…”
  3. Notice your impulses
    “I want to kick, run away, curl up, eat…”
  4. Name your feelings:
    “I feel sad. I feel ashamed. I’m afraid you don’t understand me”

Learn to Listen to Your Partner Skillfully
We are great proponents of rigorous, respectful listening. We understand it takes a lot of courage to open heartedly listen to the very different “world” of our partner especially when they are saying things that are difficult to hear. However, we have practiced empathic and courageous listening for 30 years and still believe it’s the secret to ending our power struggles.

Our dialogue structure is called The Empathic Dialogue. Its primary focus is on the listener although we have a great tool for the speaker as well.

The Empathic Dialogue will help you:

  1. Listen without interrupting or interpreting
  2. Create emotional safety so you can discuss difficult issues
  3. Deepen empathy &understanding
  4. Provide structure and boundaries
  5. Problem solve & make good decisions
  6. Reduce your power struggles
  7. See each other as allies rather than enemies
  8. Relax your personal defenses
  9. Build heartfelt connection between you

After many years of experimentation, this is what we now practice ourselves. We believe heartfelt compassion, curiosity, and the ability to calm ourselves down is what makes it all work. Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want, was our guide and inspiration in creating our own model.

The Listener Role
First focus within yourself:
Relaxed and open body language
Compassionate, Curious and interested attitude
Eye contact
Deep breathing to calm any reactions

As a practice, begin sharing sessions with:
a. I am here with you
b. I am available to hear what you have to say.
c. I am interested in what you are going through.

The Practice:
a. Every two minutes, stop your partner and lovingly summarize what you have heard:
What I hear you saying _________
Did I get it?
Is there more?

b. At the end, emphatically summarize your partner’s perspective and feelings.

The Speaker Role
First focus within yourself:
Willingness to open your heart and vulnerably self disclose
Self awareness: What am I really feeling and needing?
Self calming in order to NOT attack

The Practice
a. Use I statements
b. Share your deeper feelings
c. Include your needs
Avoid: Blaming, shaming, attacking and pointing the finger.

During the practice time, you’ll be sensitive to your partner’s responses to you. You’ll want him or her to appreciate and react to your attempts with receptivity. You might have to enroll them in joining you in the practice. You may fall back to interacting in your old ways. After all, the old ways of speaking, listening, or solving problems will feel more familiar and comfortable. It’s not easy at first. You are breaking old patterns, and the people around you might wonder what you’re up to. You have to “hold on to yourself”, and persevere because you know its good for you, and in the long run good for depth and connection. You may even want to get some communication or relationship coaching as you practice and build your comfort level with these skills.

Understand that you CAN learn better communication skills. You’ll have to put some effort in. But it can be fun, and the benefits are terrific: more connection, aliveness, intimacy, and good will!

Call or Email us now for a FREE CONSULTATION, application and registration forms.
Katrina: 970 259 3424
Joel: 970 259 7585

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