What Did You Just Say?
Do you want more connection and intimacy with your partner? Are you longing for that soft sense of trust and honesty? A place and a person with whom you might share everything, and they you?
I hear this kind of desire from people I coach with. I understand it. Humans, as pack animals, are destined to bond (at least for a while). Our neurology is designed to be in distress if we don’t feel that deep sense of belonging.
Yet, it seems we have been educated out of knowing how to create or maintain it in most of our relationships.
Many of my clients who struggle with this (as I did way back when) think, say and do things that are so obviously in opposition to creating this experience.
Here’s how it goes.
You are in relationship. You have been asking your partner to share more, to open up, to be honest. You want so desperately to have connection. They finally tell you something they have been holding back. They think (know) you won’t like what they are about to share with you. They muster up the courage to speak and share something very dear to them, and (as they guessed) you didn’t like it.
How do you respond? You say (scream?) things like, “I can’t believe you just said that to me, what do you mean you think that?” Or “That was totally inappropriate.” Or “Go ahead and leave! I don’t care!” Then with an eye roll, and a hmmf you indicate that they persist in being the problem in the relationship.
Sometimes I want to say to friends and clients who tell me of this struggle…
“What did you just say!?”
Let’s take this step by step:
1. When you think your friend/colleague/partner/mother is the problem, STOP. Take a breath. They are just basically never the problem. And, if that is what you are thinking, it will take way longer ~ if ever ~ to uncover, discover and shift the energy enough to find the intimacy you are hoping for.
2. Your friend/colleague/partner/mother said something you didn’t like (or perhaps the pattern is they just don’t tell you anything, does that sound more familiar??). You are upset because you want intimacy. Connection. Understanding. Belonging. Safety. Partnership.
3. Now think about all the things you have said to this person. What % of the things you have said/done (please include eye rolls) that have actually invited ~ really invited, honest conversation —intimacy. What % of the responses have contributed to the disconnection? This requires a capacity to self-reflect. Drop out of blame. Just think about all the things you have said over the days/months/years.
Have you given up years ago, and blamed the other person over and over —unable to notice how you are creating more distance?
If your answer is no, I invite you to reconsider your answer. It is super-difficult to admit (or even notice this).
You can invite someone to share this experience with you. It is usually not so easy for most of us. If it isn’t easy for them, and you blame them for what is going wrong, then it is likely that you are reinforcing the difficulty they experience in sharing openly with you. You will be in for years of distress and blame. If you demand they do it, (answer your questions, speak up, etc.) without considering how you impact them with your own response (meaning you think you should be able to say anything you want in response) again, you are likely in for years of distress and blame.
Say This Not That.
When someone shares with you something you may not enjoy hearing, consider your response. I encourage you to offer an invitation to continue talking as the very first thing you say. Here are some examples:
- ”Thank you, I value honesty between us very much.”
- “Tell me more, I want to understand how you think that…”
Followed by something like one of these sentences [empathy]:
- “I imagine it was difficult to share something that we have been fighting about for so many years.”
- “I imagine it was challenging for you to reveal something so personal.”
- “I imagine you have been struggling with this, as you know I have a different opinion.”
Following that you might add how you feel, for example [honesty]:
- “I feel so scared hearing this because I value our relationship so much.”
- “This is difficult to hear because….”
- “Would you be willing to listen to what I am experiencing now?”
And finally, remember this. They aren’t REQUIRED to do anything. They are not required to live up to your expectations. And you aren’t REQUIRED to keep trying. Skip the days/months/years of distress and blame. If someone actually isn’t into or (able to) creating an experience of deep intimacy with you, for whatever reason – or, you really have given up, then let him or her off the hook. Let yourself off the hook. Stop the suffering.
Ask someone else.