Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships
Communication is one of the more obvious breakdowns and useful skills in relationships. When we have the beginning conversation with couples we work with, this is the most recurrent theme we hear, the most publicly written about, and has the most offers of ways to organize and be skillful. A somatic and language based orientation is a valuable holistic practice for this important theme, and we could easily extend this theme into a whole book. Let us know if this has value for you.
#7 Communication – Speaking and Listening
“If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.”- Miles Davis
Well, here you are, face to face, and you’re going to have that conversation that has been waiting to happen, and neither of you knows how it’s going to turn out. Both have a lot a stake and feel tense and stressed, and one partner is frustrated and the other is fearful. OK, go for it!
Communication is not just about talking to each other; it is also about how partners have conversations and what is being talked about while practicing the skill of generative conversations. When we are coaching couples, effective communication is one of the first skills we support couples to learn. Among other things, it lays the foundation for moving relationships forward, making plans, addressing breakdowns, cleaning up unspoken assessments, and resolving trust issues. The practice of generative communication brings with it trust, choice, care, and connection.
Generative conversations begin with making agreements about how to have conversations, scheduling conversations, and what happens when the conversation becomes difficult. What do you do in the face of disagreement and conflict? The how of conversations and the agreements about them are not just useful, they are necessary, and defines the ground for being able to have any kind of necessary, and sometimes difficult conversation.
The results and outcomes of most conversations are agreements, decisions, requests, and offers. Also be clear about what satisfaction means related to agreements, decisions, requests, and offers. If you are making a request, think, “I will be satisfied when” this set of criteria has been successfully completed. If you are making an offer, what will satisfy your partner? This part of the conversation requires honesty, transparency, respect, and authenticity. With differing levels of intimacy in different domains, it is useful to pay attention to language, asking the question, “Is my choice of words and tone bring us together or create distance?”
Another skill to apply during conversations is mood management. This is a personal responsibility for both partners. Mood management is another important skill for relationships. Everyone has a trigger point, yes even you. Being triggered is natural and automatic and comes in several forms, and some level of self-management and self-control is valuable.
Good communication early in a relationship will build a solid foundation for growth. And if a more mature relationship finds itself lacking in useful agreements, it is never too late. It is not unusual that the discovery of a gap in agreements occurs in the midst of a new breakdown. It will serve your relationship to sooner or later have agreements about things like money, intimacy, type of relationship, expectations, and partner support, and there are many other areas for which conversations would be useful. The danger comes when things are not spoken about.
What conversation is either pending or being avoided that would be useful to complete. For the sake of this practice, it will be useful to choose a conversation that has limited importance with a minimum charge between partners.
The first step is to agree on the day and time for the conversation. If for any reason this needs to change, renegotiate day and time BEFORE the originally agreed upon time. Be prepared for the conversation by thinking through the outcome you would like to see happen as a result of the conversation. Come to the conversation in a mood of curiosity and openness to other points of view. Know the outcome you are looking for, but it won’t be useful to be fixated on that outcome. Be open to the possibility of compromise.
Throughout this practice, notice your inclinations. Do you want to be right? Are you giving up your stand before the conversation even starts, or do you give over to other too quickly? Do you move towards avoidance? There is no right or wrong way to be in this, just notice where you go and be honest about what is happening to you. Once complete ask yourself if you are satisfied with the conversation. If your response is yes, what made it satisfying? If your response is no, what made it dissatisfying?
If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.
Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome http://www.relevantelephants.com