communication Posts

Reducing Conflict by Telling Like it Really Is

Telling it like it is… used to be a saying that let us speak exactly what we were thinking, despite the consequences it might have in our relationships. It was worn like a badge of honesty. But when we are angry (mostly a secondary emotion), frustrated or blaming we are engaging in secondary emotions and this is only a part of the truth, if the truth at all. The real you is underneath in our primary emotions. When we communicate these emotions, we are really telling it like it is.
What are our primary emotions and how does this work? Researchers have found that we only have 6 primary emotions. They are sadness, surprise/excitement, disgust/shame, fear, joy and occasionally anger. Our first response when something triggers an emotion, is our primary emotion. The trigger, primary response and secondary emotion happens lightening fast. We will often find our primary emotions a place of vulnerability and openness. Our emotions are in a constant state of reappraisal and we will often cover our primary emotions over with our secondary emotions. You will notice this when you remember the last time you felt something intensely with your partner. As you think about your unmet expectation, or whatever your wound was in that moment, you will notice your emotions changing towards secondary emotions such as anger or blaming or victimization or a myriad of other emotions. You will notice that your secondary emotions close you up and you can sometimes feel more powerful but disconnected from communicating in a healthy way from your partner. This may be the conflict pattern that you and your partner have that may last a few days or weeks, where you do not communicate. You may be a person that has struggled with anger in a relationship. If that is the case, you are familiar with your defensiveness and often blaming which is disconnecting in your relationship. If you looked at your primary emotion that lies below your anger, you might find some fear or sadness. When you share your fear, sadness or shame with your partner, your partner is able to hear and connect with those emotions and your vulnerability that goes with that. They will find you open and it will be a connecting experience in your relationship rather then more fuel for conflict.

When you are learning this new way of communicating, sometimes it is difficult to get to your primary emotions. One way to begin is to guess at what might be underneath. Once you have some practice, you will find it easier to understand yourself in this regard. At first you may not do this well each time. If you don’t do this well in the moment and regret your secondary emotional response, make sure your repair with your partner includes sharing what was really going on. If you are the hearer of these emotions, you will likely relate to these deep emotions. Your response is important. Make sure you honour the gift of your partners sharing by creating emotional safety and treat the gift with a gentle and reassuring response. This creates continuing attachment security in your relationship which is what we all long for.

Your Best in Relationship

Would your partner say that you show up in the relationship feeling engaged, energetic and enthusiastic? We could say that your emotions are experienced by your partner in at least 2 ways. One is the quality of the emotions you bring. Are they positive or negative? When you come together as a couple are you communicating your affection, your love and your gladness at being together again? Or do you come together with the day’s cares and grumpiness from work events? If you were honest, would you say that you are not communicating your attachment and connection for your partner in a way that increases the security of the relationship together in the quality of your emotional engagement?

 The other quality of emotional experience that your partner registers is the intensity of the emotions you bring to the relationship. This too can range from barely there to a high intensity. You know the old cartoon where there is a newspaper propped up at a table and the female partner is talking to the back of the newspaper not even realizing there is no one there. The relationship pattern is so lacking in intensity of emotion that the person is not there period and the partner is not noticing the difference.  The updated version to that is that our partners are glued to their phone or computer and ‘not there’ as well. This communication of low intensity does not communicate your love and affection effectively, in fact not at all. I find in my practice that couples argue about this a great deal. It is most often both of the partners that experience this lack of intensity and will bring it up as an issue for change. Remember that our attachment experience needs the reassurance of our partner’s affection and connection daily. It needs to be “you can count on me to be there for you”. It has to be a commitment on our part especially when we are coming and going from each other. You may understand that magic 20 minutes that you and your partner need together to communicate but you may not have thought about how you were showing up to these times in terms of emotional quality and intensity. Become aware today and make this small change that makes a big difference. Communicate your love and attachment to your partner well. Go forth and be wonderful!

Defensiveness in Relationships

John Gottman’s research found that defensiveness was one of 4 important ways that relationships break down. If you are the person in the relationship that is defensive, it is so important that you take care of this in yourself so that the relationship is not damaged. Often when one person in the relationship brings up something negative, (more…)