Choosing to share life with another person is one of the most beautiful, and most challenging, experiences imaginable. Many traditions say that we are born to experience, learn from, and share love.
And for many people, myself included, this learning is most intense with the people we love the most deeply.
But What Do We Do When There Is a Problem?
Its easy to run away, literally or emotionally, when things get tough. When we are truly connected to someone, it is likely that they will trigger a wound, insecurity, or other sore place. Usually this is unintentional, but that doesnt make it less disorienting.
We have a few choices: fight, run away, shut down, or let it be an opportunity for healing. The courageous ones, the ones whose relationships last a lifetime and inspire the greatest growth and magic, stay present and commit to healing the ship.
The Willingness to Evolve
Emotional situations trigger our nervous systems just like other perceived danger. Except that rather than our bodies being endangered, it is our ego that feels threatened. A conflict in relationship usually means that growth must happen for resolution.
And the idea of growth is deadly to our egos, which are designed to maintain the status quo. Ultimately, we must be willing to let some part of ourselves transform for the relationship to remain healthy.
Steps to Healthy Communication
* Stay present with your partner. Breathe through the desire to run away or escalate the situation into a fight. This also means to stay with the present situation, rather than bringing up past mistakes.
* Be honest. Take responsibility for your part in the situation. Avoid the murky swamps that are created by blaming, shaming, or guilt-tripping your partner. And be willing to speak the whole truth of your experience, even if it feels uncomfortable to do so.
* Use I statements and make requests instead of demands. These tips from Non-Violent Communication are helpful to keep conversations heart-centered and productive. Rather than harping on what your partner did or did not say or do, focus on how a certain situation made you feel. And ask instead of forcing.
For example, instead of saying You always make a mess! Clean up after yourself! You would say: I feel very uncomfortable in cluttered or messy environments, and its hard for me to be productive in the way that I need. Would you please clean up immediately after you finish working on a project?
This kind of rephrasing still expresses the truth of your emotional experience and your need, without shaming your partner. It also gives him or her an actionable request.
* Speak it when it happens. One of the most dangerous mistakes in relationships is to let things fester. As soon as possible after an uncomfortable, hurtful, or annoying experience, communicate your feelings, experience, and needs to your partner.
* Check in regularly. Most of the healthy couples I know schedule time a few days a week where they just sit and talk with their partners. They share their love for each other as well as any hurtful or ignorant behaviors, and simply clear the air.
* Let go. Be willing to let go of grievances. Once you have shared what needs speaking find a healthy way of discharging the emotional energy, and move on.
Also be willing to let your partner evolve. This may mean that the relationship changes form, or you separate for a while. Healthy, evolving relationships require the ability to let go of what we thought was real in the past, to recognize what is true now.
The word relationship implies an active form of relating. And the main action of relating is communication. Through true communication, we forge connections between our hearts and the heart of another. With presence, clarity, and courage, we can weather any storm and steer our ship of relating to healthy shores.