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Real Conversations

Last night I was invited over for dinner at a couple's house who are in their 60's and 70''s. The husband cooked us a delicious meal and the four of us, my daughter included, sat around the table sharing stories about our triumphs and struggles.

At some point during the conversation the husband brought up some painful aspects of the couples union, and that's when I instructed my daughter to go into the other room to color and watch her favorite TV show, so that I could listen to their hearts and see if I could provide some insight that might make them both understand how to proceed with having real and safe conversations.

He said that she doesn't have the bandwidth or capacity to discuss important matters concerning her choices in behavior as she simply exclaims "I don't want to talk about that" whenever she is being faced with a truth that weighs heavy upon this heart. I felt for him. This is clearly a man who has a high level of emotional intelligence - I could tell by the way he patiently and gently shared his perspective.

I asked him for an example. He gave me one that highlighted how he felt disrespected and emasculated in all kinds of different situations and circumstances. I could see that he was carrying hurt. And I could also feel that he loved his wife very much. She would interrupt him endlessly while he spoke, and say things like "in my defense"... which is not a good sign of self-awareness. Not only that, I could sense that each time he was interrupted, he would patiently wait for her to finish, and sometimes the wait between her finishing what she had to say would cause the conversation to go in a completely different direction, so he had a hard time getting what he wanted to say completely out. Which is not very fair or helpful in helping to bring understanding to the equation.

Nevertheless, eventually he was able to say it all out, and I understood what he was dealing with. What I noticed was that she was great at saying how wonderful he was, but she also made it known about the things that bothered her, and went as far to say that there are other people in their lives that feel the same way.

What a blow to the heart. It was a subtle form of criticism.

I shifted in my seat surveying the map that would lead them to greater heights of understanding by addressing the ways their communication, mostly hers, disrupted their ability to connect and to feel safe talking to one-another.

I would apologize for interrupting them when they went on a negative tangent and veered off course from the primary issue. I was able to intercede by sharing truths about how relating needs to be thought of, and what needs to be removed completely from their communication styles in order to resolve some long-standing problems.

Here is what I shared:

Interrupting is dangerous when someone is sharing their vulnerability. The only way interrupting works is if you first apologize for the interruption, because perhaps they are trailing off their point and there is confusion in the listener, which then can be clarified with an interruption caused by the need to clarify something or as a question to go further for the need for understanding.

Criticism, sarcasm, and cynicism are all very dangerous communication styles that when employed destroy connection in zero minus one second. Don't do it. Find a way to share what you think and feel without going there. For people who use these methods as a way to get their point across, I tell you that it is the most destructive way of getting painful feelings across. The better way is to look behind the negative jabs and find the tender message that is really trying to come out. This takes vulnerability. It's hard to be vulnerable when we feel hurt, but it's a lot easier than losing the one you love.

Make a request using love and logic. In this couples case, I instructed the husband to say things like "darling, when you say things like "-------" to me in front of our children I feel hurt, it brings down my self-esteem because I value your opinion, and when you think I've done something wrong I feel a sense of shame, which may not be your intention, but it hurts nonetheless. Please can you address your concerns with me in private, so that I can maintain my self-respect while in the company of those we both love, while also having the opportunity to explain why I do what I do, which will help you understand me better, and therefor bring us closer.

Mirroring: I tell all the people I work with to mirror their partner in body language as well as with words. What this looks like is the wife, in this case, would repeat back to her husband what she heard him say, so that there is zero confusion about the message. Sometimes what we say is interpreted negatively from our audience, so it's really important that the message and instruction is clear. By repeating back what she heard him say, he has the ability to feel sure that his heartfelt communication was received and therefore understood. She would say "darling, I heard you say that you feel hurt when I point out the mistakes I believe you to make in front of other people, and you are asking me to share my concerns in private, so that you can maintain your dignity and self-esteem... is that correct?" Then he will have the chance to say "yes, you heard me correctly". Or, he can say yes, and furthermore.... if he feels there is more to share. Then she has the opportunity to apologize, if she feels his truth deep enough and can remove her eGo defenses from her common narrative, then they will progress. This is a practice. It's not easy at first, but becomes easier with each attempt at being honest in the absence of negativity. Alternatively, she then has the chance to share what's been troubling her within their relationship and he then has the chance to make things right, so that a better understanding of their inner worlds can be brought to the light, and therefore their connection can be strengthened instead of depleted.

If one person in the coupledom is unwilling to do this type of "work" then the relationship will sour. A healthy relationship cannot thrive without honest and heartfelt communication. My own marriage broke down because my partner lacked the capacity to see into his own heart and feelings and was too uncomfortable to stretch beyond his comfort zone.

That is how I became passionate about this side of my craft, from the frustration I felt at not being able to construct a dialogue using sincere and heartfelt emotion with my partner. In his childhood and adolescent life he was exposed to yelling and rage, so by tragic design the idea of navigating conflict in a healthy way seemed alien. He avoided bringing up a concern and steered clear of conflict until he turned to alcohol to help him process his emotions and then would bring them up through destructive and abusive behaviors that were fatal to our relationship as well as my soul.

I lived for many, many years feeling afraid to talk to my spouse about matters that concerned me in fear of his response. Which is no way to live. I lived through betrayals and denials and sabotage because I was attached and shared children, and was afraid to leave. Of course there were many good times, but not being able to handle conflict carefully will result in lost love. And who wants to lose their love?

To this day, I strive to practice what I preach. It is so much easier when things are going well and smoothly, but like anything in life, we have to be somewhat prepared in navigating thoughts, emotions and feelings when they arise during a struggle to make sense of the situation and know how to handle it without damaging our sense of self-worth.

Intimate relationships will no doubt cause us to question our worth during hard times if the style of communication is toxic. Take preventative measures by getting down to the root of your feelings, and use the methods above to formulate a dialogue (not a monologue) in order to keep the love and connection going flowing.

When I was getting ready to leave the couples house, the husband told me that this was the first time in over a year where he felt he was able to have a real conversation. He thanked me for my help, and I thanked him for being comfortable enough to share his true feelings and for the delicious meal he made for us all.

Blessed be the fruit of a heartfelt conversation.

Namasté Real,

Marian xo

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