Our words will either bring us closer to others, or they will distance us. Distancing creates distrust, unhappiness and conflicts.
Closeness brings problems, too. Intimacy always has difficult moments. Intimacy can be thought of as “into me see.” It brings vulnerability, and always, the possibilities of being hurt.
Difficulties in relationships are bound to come, so how do we handle them?
Do we blame? Either ourselves, or the other? Do we get angry and suffer silently, and/or project our anger onto the world?
Are we willing to listen, really listen to each other?
There is a way to build bridges where love and trust flow across and brings fulfillment and joy.
It’s called compassionate communication. It’s a path that requires a new language.
In my marriage of 54 years, after a period described as “15 years of hell,” my husband and I used the following steps to develop a whole new relationship, based on trust.
With persistent use of this practice (which wasn’t easy) loving respect and harmony flowed between us for the next thirty years — until his death.
These steps work! But you must work the steps!
You can find a description of these 4 powerful steps of peacemaking in Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication.
I have added the additional work for real intimacy in step two. This is not found in Rosenberg’s book. We learned this at Marriage Encounter. The deeper work in this step not only moves two people closer, but also helps integrate and heal childhood wounds as well.
1) State what was said or done by the other without any evaluation or judgment.
What was said or done has caused the upset, so identify it.
I suggest putting it in writing for clarity.
Then check to see if there is any evaluation or judgment in your statement. You are stating just the facts — no emotion involved. Rewrite if you find judgments or blame.
2) Share your feelings.
We all need to develop a vocabulary of feelings. If we begin with, “I feel that….”, be sure you are not sharing your feelings.
Feelings are emotions — not interpretations of how you have reacted to whatever someone did or said.
An emotional IQ is needed for real dialogue — for any kind of closeness.
This course was not taught to us as we were growing up. Who really asked us what our feelings were, or our needs? We have to learn it now, right in the midst of our hurts and damaged pride.
No one else is responsible for our feelings.
Step two takes time. It can’t be rushed. It’s not simply a matter of identifying our emotions, perhaps consulting a list of feelings and selecting the ones that are appropriate.
For intimacy, more is required.
After identifying our feelings we ask:
Where in my life have I felt like this before? What childhood experience caused me to feel this way? Here is where a journal is necessary. This is private work to be shared only after we looked deeply within.
We need explore our early life to find out how we were conditioned to feel, think and react in these ways.
As we go deeper we begin the path of honoring our feelings by allowing them to uncover memories and attitudes that cause our suffering.
A therapist, counselor or spiritual director can be very, very helpful at this point. And a journal is necessary. This is a place where you can hear yourself, and be heard. Relationship with oneself is primary.
But before we can share these experiences with others, there must be a trusting relationship. If this is not the case, our vulnerability may be used against us.
Perhaps it is enough for us to gain this new understanding just for ourselves. With each awareness we will be less reactive and more compassionate.
After clearly identifying our feelings (and sharing what underlies them when appropriate) we then move into the next step:
3) Share your need. We all have basic human needs. This step will not involve asking another to do something. Such as, I need you to…..
If you are unaware of your underlying needs as I was, you can get help by consulting either Marshall’s book, or his website. A list of both needs and feelings can be found on www.CNVC.org.
Then the last step:
4) State a specific request that you would like the other to do. No demands.
This must be a specific task with a specific outcome — nothing general, such as, “please be more loving, or patient,” or “Don’t ever do this again,” or “Can’t you just be more understanding?”
It needs to be something specific and reasonable that the other is capable of doing. It must be able to be done in real time, not a “forever” activity.
You will know whether this is a request or a demand by your feelings if they decline your request. If you are irritated or upset, it was a demand masquerading as a request.
We don’t find peace by demanding that others meet our expectations. We must look within and find our real motivations.
If we are to feel close to others, and not isolated, our upsets and disappointments are great opportunities to be worked with in a compassionate way.
This takes lots of practice.
I suggest doing these four steps first in a journal, for they need deep, penetrating thought, and lots of refinement.
You are truth-telling. You are reeling in your projections. This is an act of great love.
Persistent practice of these communication skills leads to loving, accepting relationships. It’s worth the effort!