What do you think it takes to have a happy, healthy marriage? Your close friends or their parents might have modeled it for you, or you had the privilege to witness it with your own parents. If you didn’t experience either, however, chances are you’re just doing the best you can. On the onset, relationships provide a sense of well-being, acceptance, and satisfaction. The reality is that all relationships come with challenges at some point; it’s how a couple decides to work through those challenges that make a difference in the health of their relationship. The first step is to recognize that these stressors can result from many different sources with the most common ones being poor communication, unresolved hurts. narratives, lack of maturity and self-care, power imbalance, and misaligned priorities. We will be tackling each of these six reasons behind marital discord across several blog posts, so be sure to follow along to the end.
Contrary to popular belief, communication is not the main perpetrator for the difficulties experienced in marriage. However, it does have to be dealt with first. Without a proper and effective way to communicate, no productive change can happen. Once poor communication is repaired, we are in a better position to address other problem areas. The following demonstrates the reasons that communication and connection should be given priority to evaluate and develop.
People are often more interested in how you use your words rather than the actual words that you use. Someone can say the same phrase in different tones of voice or using different body language, and the two messages have a completely different impact on the recipient of the message. Often, especially in conflict, others won’t feel heard until they believe that the person they are speaking to understands what it feels like to be in their shoes. When creating an intimate connection in a relationship, it’s essential to foster an environment that shows care and value towards one another. We ultimately want to be heard and understood in our relationships. It’s common for one partner to feel as if the other one is selfish and making choices that best benefit themselves. However, the injured party may also mean: How come my partner does not consider my needs when they make decisions? Do they think of me at all? This issue often comes up in relationships where each partner has difficulty opening up or feeling safe about being honest.
“Vulnerability” is a word that is spouted a lot on shows like The Bachelor or across influencer social media posts and many self-help podcasts. The sentiment is that being vulnerable and sharing ourselves with those around us creates a ‘magical experience’ that can heal or improve many situations. However, this is only half of the equation. Being vulnerable isn’t only about being honest; it also means sharing what one needs. It is not something to check off like on a to-do list. Being vulnerable takes courage, insight, and strength to be willing to open up on a deeper level, especially to your partner.
What about the other person in the conversation? Well, that’s where the other half of the equation comes in. Being an active and effective listener is the yen to the yang of a healthy couple. Someone can share their core needs but if their partner, the listener, possesses a glazed look then more than likely those words are going through one ear and out the other. That partner may be hearing the words but also cultivating a response at the same time so essentially, not listening. At that moment, that vulnerability has done nothing but open hurt and potential resentment. Similar to vulnerability, listening takes an equal amount of courage. A listener must be willing to put their pride, fear, and needs aside for a moment so that they can understand the meaning and feelings within the message directed at them. Validation is a critical aspect of being an effective listener. To be willing to acknowledge the other person’s perspective, even though you disagree, can drastically resolve conflict or lower the tension levels within a conversation.
Reading these things may leave you wondering, Who in the world talks like this? Individuals who have strong and healthy relationships can and do communicate this way. But, and this is a big ‘but,’ they are not perfect at it. Even though these concepts sound nice and lead to healing, the path to get there is not always easy. However, it is very attainable. Communicating in a vulnerable way and listening to others empathetically takes practice, coaching, and repetition. Like building a new muscle or any new skill, it can be clunky and awkward at first try. However, by working with a trained professional and being willing to make mistakes along the way, you can learn how to speak vulnerably and effectively with your partner. Doing so can be the lifeline for your relationship when times get rough and life throws a curveball your way.
You may be thinking, Okay, I can see that in myself, but how did this happen? What led us here?
Individuals who have difficulty expressing vulnerability will have one or both of these two things in common:
When one or both of these points are found in someone, the tendency is to speak to others defensively or aggressively when approaching conversations. This behavior can be seen in one of the following ways:
Unfortunately, people in relationships often feel safer or more respected when pointing out someone else’s behavior or wrongdoing instead of taking ownership of what they really may be feeling or thinking. This response can actually be more draining than speaking honestly about how you feel, because it requires effort and time to craft new justifications for your perspective to be the “right” one.
A question that’s not often considered is, What about the receiving end? Can someone be defensive on that end as well? More often than not, how someone responds to conflict can be just as telling as how they initiate conflict.
It can be equally challenging to be emotionally available when you feel under attack. Some qualities that may describe the second nature or knee-jerk reactions that interfere with effective listening include:
Whether you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty communicating in a vulnerable way or effectively listening, a feeling that seems to be common in these situations is the need to defend against a perceived threat or attack. While the person hopes they’re protecting themselves from the hurt they believe is coming their way, the result is more often prolonged hurt and the creation of confusion.
Let’s face it; it’s hard to feel bad for someone who seems to be attacking you! Whether it’s intentional or a perceived attacked, someone who has practiced being an empathetic listener is still able to emotionally connect with the other person, even when being spoken to in an aggressive manner. This ability requires using multiple skills and once mastered, can be the key that unlocks ongoing connection and hope for resolution in a relationship.
A good place to start identifying if you’re in the place to practice vulnerability or effective listening is to recognize feeling “flooded” in a moment of being confronted. Being “flooded” means your anxiety is running the show, instead of your ability to logically think through a situation. You may feel your heart rate pick up, find it difficult to hear what the other person is saying, feel yourself becoming easily frustrated, or have difficulty focusing your attention on something outside of the conflict.
It’s hard to find resolution in a conflict when you feel overwhelmed by your emotions. However, it’s also not realistic to find a solution when you’re not aware of any of your feelings. Balancing the management of your emotions enough to be aware of them but not allowing those emotions to spew out or cause you to shut down is a huge step towards healthy conflict.
Simply put, destructive communication persists if one or more of the following are present in someone’s communication pattern.
Untangling how you’ve become accustomed to communicating in the past can be a challenging task! Although it’s been compared to learning a new skill, it can often be more complicated than that. When developing a new skill, it’s natural to assume that you don’t know anything about it and it is acceptable to start from the ground and work your way up. However, when you’re learning how to change the way you interact with others, there’s a period of time in which you have to unlearn the way you hear, interpret, and respond to those around you on top of applying those new communication skills.
To expedite the process, hire a liaison to assist you in navigating these unknown territories. A trained counselor can assist you in identifying the way you speak to other people and help you learn ways to adjust your approach to others without experiencing judgment or blame. It takes time but as you continue to practice this new type of approach with those in your day-to-day life, over time, you’ll find yourself engaging in conflict in a healthy way and maybe even, enjoy it. Okay, that might feel like taking it a bit too far but at the very least, the gains from each good conflict will provide confidence you are moving towards a healthy goal. This blog is the first in a series on couples, so be sure to check in with us soon for more!
If you could use some support on your journey with your child, give Lifeologie a call! We’re here to support you. All of our staff are here to help, book an appointment today!