communication in relationships

I've been doing quite a bit of communication coaching with dyads lately -- romantic partners as well as parents and offspring -- and finding it to be an incredibly rewarding and thought-provoking experience.  Thought I'd post a few observations about interpersonal dynamics that seem to pop up often:

 1)  Underneath the impulse to attack there is always fear.  Most often, in relationships it's the fear that someone we care about and who knows us very well is correct in their assessment that we are wrong, bad, selfish, mean, critical, impulsive, weak, un-evolved or whatever.

Rather than simply admit that we can indeed be any of those things at times, we often choose to defend ourselves and deflect attention with a counter attack: "You think I am selfish!?  What about you!  You never even blah blah blah!"

Where there is self-acceptance, there is no need for a defensive attack.  If someone says, "You are judging me," and we have made peace with our humanity and learned to love and accept ourselves in all our messy glory, we can respond with, "Why, yes, look at that ... I guess I am!  How is that for you?"

2)  Trying to hide our 'flaws' inhibits intimacy, takes a lot of energy, and is rarely even successful.  It's much easier to just admit we aren't perfect and go from there.  We all judge.  We all forget.  We all overlook details now and then.  We all reach the end of our ropes at times and either say things we regret, clam up and refuse to engage, or walk away for a while.  Let's get used to that and stop expecting ourselves and each other to do otherwise.

3)  People who are critical of others almost invariably hold themselves to impossibly high standards.  Some actually manage to meet their own expectations some or most of the time, through intense effort and great expenditure of time and energy.  But when they fall short, they are very very hard on themselves.

Although it may not be obvious, it is more painful to be the critical person than to be the object of their criticism, because the inner voice that says it's just not good enough hounds them relentlessly.  At least their 'victims' can tune them out or walk away!

4)  People generally respond to vulnerability with compassion.  When spoken kindly and sincerely, "I am afraid that if I tell you what I really think about this you will be disappointed, and I don't want to disappoint you," will usually call forth kindness from the other person.  

5) The reverse also applies:  people generally react to expectations and demands with resistance or defensiveness.  "You owe me this" does not typically invite generosity, but "I'm embarrassed to ask for your help" just might.

6)  The way that we respond to honest disclosures, especially when they are not pretty, can impact the likelihood that we will be trusted with the truth again.

7)  Attention and respect are very powerful ways to promote connection and good will.

8)  It's far more productive to wait until we have cooled down to finish a conversation.  There are very few true emergencies that must be resolved immediately.  Taking a break until the anger, heat, and impulse to be right at all costs have subsided is almost always a great idea.

There's so much more, but I need to get back to writing my reports right now.

What have you noticed or learned about communication in relationships?


Sue K said...

I've noticed that when I get very upset with someone, what I want or need from that person is often (maybe always?) what I need to do/be myself.

Jeff Patterson said...

These are so good! I trust I'll be in need of re-reading these. Thank you.