Most of us remember our first experience of love for our partner. For most of us those early days of a relationship are the most exciting life affirming, crazy times of our lives, where we have feelings and sensations that occur to us as out of our control and exhilarating. They connect us to our primal nature and take us back to our younger days when life was for living not for analysing, worrying and ruminating over. That’s when we see the person that we love as a near perfect being and our days are consumed by thoughts of them.
So this is how a relationship often unfolds and if this isn’t exactly how it went or goes for you then perhaps you can see that you have experienced a version of this. After some time that quirky cute behaviour exhibited by them, that at first occurred as endearing, may now grate like finger nails scraped down a blackboard and those declarations of undying love and lofty plans for the future are long forgotten in the daily humdrum of life. Ok maybe this is a little overstated for some but we are often aware that the fun and joy and sometimes love for our partner has dwindled or sometimes completely disappeared. In that first period of love and connection the way we communicate which was originally from love and commitment may now have eroded into reactionary point scoring. The problem often is that how we were being with our partner and how they were with us is now lost and as much as we may try we fail to reconnect and get the relationship we had dreamed of back. They just don’t seem to be the person that they were.
Below are some ideas/techniques that I know have worked for couples I have worked with and have worked in my relationship with my wife. No written material can replace what I can offer with personal coaching but if you and your partner are prepared to draw a line and say ‘enough’ to how it has been between you and you are now willing to embrace a new approach then I am confident that this material will make a huge difference to your relationship, whether you feel that the relationship has hit the rocks or you just want to bring some joy and excitement back into it. I will be releasing step 2 soon with many more to follow. There is an order to the different steps presented here, however there is no advantage to be had from sticking slavishly to the order that I release them. You may need to jump backwards or forwards through the steps depending on your assessment of how it’s going. For instance if you hit a wall or are struggling with one area of your relationship then you will almost certainly find that one of the steps has not been fully completed or that maybe it just needs re visiting to give a boost to that area. I request however that step 1 is always completed first. The reason for this will become apparent.
The most effective way of having this material positively impact your relationship is for you and your partner to work together. However it is possible and not advisable to make a difference to the relationship if just you take responsibility for having it work. I know that this may occur to you as counter intuitive as you may be thinking ‘the problem is with them not me’ or ‘well it takes two to tango’ -and I will address this in later material but for now just trust me when I say that you alone can cause a massively positive impact on your relationship even if your partner is reluctant to do so.
So by the fact that you are reading this, I know that you are looking to make a difference in your relationship or your understanding of how relationships work. Congratulations! You have taken the first step in your commitment to your partner and yourself and almost certainly the people in your family and in your life. No matter how long you have been together there will be a lot of conversations or interactions with your partner that haven’t gone the way you would have liked. There will be things about the relationship that don’t work for either of you and haven’t worked for some time and you have maybe wanted to address but have been stopped. So what stops us from communicating openly with our partner. Well it’s generally one of the below:
a) we are resigned about the difference that it will make, we have the thought ‘well it’s pointless saying it again because she/he just doesn’t listen to me’. Or ‘it’s gone too far now to make any difference’
b) ‘they always take offense no matter what I say or how I put it.’
c) ‘I just don’t know where to start or when to say it.’
d) ‘I’m scared of their reaction. Maybe they will think that I don’t love them anymore.’
e) ‘why should it be me who is always clearing up the mess!’
f) ‘why do I need to say it? It’s so obvious that what they are doing is plain wrong! If they don’t get that then there is no hope for us.’
g) or maybe you are just one of the nice ones who say ‘who am I to be saying anything about them and us’ but then you go about your day busily complaining about your partner to yourself and probably anyone else who will listen.
h) you say ‘well we’re not doing that bad,I know of couples who are doing a lot worse and anyway it can never be perfect’
Where we once communicated so openly or at least thought that we did, we are now shut down and resentful of our partner. The other danger is that our communication and commitment to each other slips away so gradually that we barely notice it. We start out the relationship having open meaningful conversations, let’s generously call that 100% communication then things happen in the relationship that aren’t addressed or you have arguments that aren’t resolved and the communication slips to an 80% but we think that it’s still at 100% and then it’s slips to let’s say 60%. We know at this stage that it’s not going well but we still think that we are probably at 80%. After a while the way we communicate with each other has slipped so far but it just occurs as normal. The way we are with each other is intolerant, righteous, dominating, uncaring and we aren’t even present to it! It’s just become the way that we communicate and if we had talked to each other in this way at the beginning of the relationship then it wouldn't have even lasted a week!
If you can see this at all for yourself then you must get how dysfunctional it has all become when there are two of you operating like this.
How then do we start to move forward? It is essential that before anything new can be generated we need to be in communication where we haven’t been in communication previously. I’ll use an analogy here to demonstrate. Imagine an outdoor swimming pool that has gathered leaves over the Autumn. If another leaf drops in then it’s no big deal. It will go unnoticed as it will be almost impossible to see amongst all of the other leaves. That’s how it’s probably been going in your relationship. As I said before it’s just become normal to speak like that, so normal that most of the time you just can’t see it, just another leaf dropping into the pool. So what needs to happen is for that pool to be cleaned out. To do this you will need to have those conversations that you have never had before, each of you being totally open about things that haven’t worked or upsets that you have had and never addressed. This is of critical importance and without this the way forward will be blocked by these unspoken issues. Nothing can be built. Do not pass go, do not collect £100! When you have cleaned up the past- and this will be ongoing during your relationship not just a once only you’ve ticked the box exercise- then any conversations or incidents that arise that don’t work for you or you partner will show up so much more clearly. As an example, if there is a communication or cross word that doesn’t work for my wife or my family delivered by any of us then it’s as though a bomb has exploded in our house. When this happens it now shows up as so intolerably stark and obvious that we just have to deal with it immediately. Therefore there is never any drama or upset. We have trained ourselves to be vigilant and not step over things that don’t work. Does this mean that we are not self expressed and tread on eggshells around each other in case we cause upset? Well no actually the opposite is true. Anyone can speak about anything at anytime without fear of it being badly received or fear of rocking the boat. I promise you that it is a glorious way of living and totally possible for you. How I know that it’s possible is that we created it like this so you can!
How do we start to have these conversations? Firstly as a couple and for ourselves we need to get clear on the impact of living our lives like this. We then need to see how intolerable and deviceive it would be if it carried on this way. You can begin to do this by sitting down with your partner and sharing from your heart how you would like things to change. However there is a danger here. A human tendency is to go to blame whenever there is a problem. You may be saying ‘well I don’t do that’ but trust me you do. It’s just a defense mechanism that can work to defend us from the world but causes havoc in our lives. Here’s a great way to overcome this natural tendency. Go to your partner with a gift. This gift is you being honest about your part in the relationship. If you are following this as a couple then take it in turns to be honest about your individual responsibility. Don’t point a finger in their direction but look at how you have been. This will open up a conversation instead of what often happens which is the blame being leveled at you/them has to be reacted to. You are then both stuck in being right and reacting to each other verses having a fruitful valuable conversation. Here are the steps I suggest that you use to being in communication with a commitment to your relationship and being honest with each other:
a) sit down somewhere private where you won’t be disturbed.
b) switch off your phones
c) don’t do anything else when you are having this conversation. Give yourself totally to it. Ok I’ll allow a cup of tea or something stronger but not too strong and don't be eating a meal.
d) make an agreement that you will both be civil and respectful in your communication. No raised voices or finger pointing.
e) one of you will go first and the agreement is that whoever is speaking is allowed to speak without interruption. The person speaking also agrees not to dominate the conversation by speaking for too long (you can make a rule for how long) and that they agree to bring up only one area at a time.
f) now this next step may seem a little strange but I promise you that it’s essential for clear and open communication. When the person who is speaking has completed that particular conversation then the person listening repeats back exactly what the person has said without adding or subtracting anything. This can be a summary of what they have just heard- you don’t have to remember every word said but it must contain all of the points. The person who is listening must then say ‘is that it?’ or ‘is there anything that I haven’t said or understood?’ Or words that you are comfortable with but convey that you have been listening and that you now want to know if what you have heard was correct. I will expand on why this is so important in further material.
g) It may take several sessions to get everything aired but be patient.
Ok so all of the above may take something. You probably have never spoken to each other so openly and it will require both of you to be alert to the others experience. It’s not easy to hear someone leveling criticism at you and even harder if it’s your partner. So it’s going to take something but what’s harder, living a life time of frustration, guilt and dysfunction or spending a bit of time being honest with each other? I know which I would prefare. You are going to need to stop being right about your partner and about yourself if you really want a new more open and honest relationship. Now this may go a bit wrong to begin with as this is new and you may experience an adverse reaction to the process but stick with it and I promise you that you will reap the rewards.
In step 2 we will be looking at news ways to communicate.
In step 2 we will be looking at news ways to communicate.