People often tell me that they have problems maintaining calm and respectful communication with their partner even though they intended to. They start out fine, but can’t follow through when their partner responds in disrespectful or angry ways. Some of these couples need the presence of an experienced couples therapist to be able to maintain calm and repair disruptions.
This article offers a communication model that outlines how to practice maintaining communication regarding how you feel in an honest and open way while keeping your calm. This is not about feeling good or even comfortable. This is about practicing staying calm even though you feel hurt and angry.
The rationale for this is having a fuller understanding of each other’s perspectives. Feeling angry doesn’t necessarily mean that you are bound to break up. It means that there is something you need to take care of.
If you manage to find solutions together, you will feel closer, safer, and understood on a deeper level. Imagine explaining to your partner that you are hurt and angry in a calm way. Also, imagine that your partner is able to hear you and respond in a loving way.
Because it is easier to express positive feelings and talk about what’s right in your relationship, I will recommend that you start with five positive statements about yourself, your partner, and your relationship. Build from the following, if you like:
What do you love about your partner?
What do you love about the relationship?
What is most important to you?
Give a concrete example of what makes you feel loved.
Give a concrete example of what you look forward to.
Expressing your love, appreciation, and willingness to stay connected and find solutions together is essential for your partner’s willingness to hear you out and consider your requests and proposed solutions to problems you are having.
Expressing feelings of frustration, anger, fear, and sadness is a lot harder and takes some consideration. If you are able to stay calm and collected while you talk about your feelings, your chances of staying on track are higher. If you avoid blaming your partner and instead talk about what you feel, think, and what is important to you and why, it is more likely that your partner will respond positively.
Try to make it easier for your partner to listen to you and refrain from interrupting you and subsequently defending herself/himself. Try to make your statements more about yourself than about your partner. This is probably one of the hardest things to do. Self-expression is about defining yourself and what is most important to you, which is not easy when you are feeling upset and hurt.
It is natural in a relationship to feel at times that the other person is to blame. However, if you consider the matter, you will become aware that you have a responsibility for your own responses and reactions, and how you function as a partner has an influence on the relationship. Your feelings are your own, and to blame others for them is not conductive for your individual or relationship growth.
Before you start expressing feelings of anger and hurt, I recommend that you think about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Consider the following:
What are your feelings? Do you feel angry, hurt, sad, scared, lonely, jealous, guilty, etc.?
Give concrete examples such as, “I feel scared when you don’t call.”
Focus more on what you feel, think, and want, not on your partner’s shortcomings. “I feel lonely and I miss what we used to do together.”
Tell your partner why it is important to you that you honestly and openly express your feelings. Make sure you explain that self-expression goes both ways, and that it takes courage to talk about feeling vulnerable. Showing vulnerabilities is a sign of strength, and talking openly and honestly about how you feel is not a weakness.
Be mindful of how you express yourself. Tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and eye contact are more important than most people think. Most of what you actually communicate to your partner has to do with how you communicate.
Be open and explicit about your intentions for having the conversation.
Make sure you are not having this conversation to get back at your partner. If you are very angry, you might feel vengeful. If that is the case, calm yourself and consider what is most important to you and what kind of partner you would like to be.
Don’t expect immediate success. Self-expression is a skill which takes practice to master. Ask for professional help if you need to.
Laurie Groh, MS LPC SAS
Mental Health Counselor at Shoreside Therapies in Whitefish Bay