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My husband and I have always kind of prided ourselves in the fact that we believed we communicated rather effectively with each other. We would and still often spend hours and hours just ‘talking’ about anything and everything, but usually heart to heart, deep and meaningful conversations.

But every so often you hit a bump in the road where the art of effective conversation breaks down. Recently, in one of our conversations, my husband communicated some of the people pleasing issues he has always wrestled with, and with his permission, I share this story that we have been working together on some boundary devlopment areas in his life. If you have been reading my series on fridays about boundaries, you know that boundaries involve building a sense of self. Understanding things like “what do you care about? What do you believe? What do you hate? What do you love? Who are you? What is attractive to you? What repels you? What do you value? What do you think about? What are you really like? These kinds of questions help us develop a sense of who we are apart from others, helping us develop our own sense of identity, rather than trying to judge and determine what kind of camelion we need to be in order to please our current audience. So Jason (my hubby) and I have been talking about these things and helping him to become aware of his own identity and me trying to be supportive of him becoming ‘who he really is’ instead of trying to live to please me, which isn’t what I ever wanted. I’ve always wanted to know who he really is, and personally wrestled many times, being fully aware of his struggle, “what am I doing wrong in the art of communicating?” and “When will he figure out I’m not perfect either and resentment comes in for all my mistakes?” It’s tough to see all of our own blindspots. I consider myself to be a very self-aware person, taking inventory frequently on my behavior, but I am an imperfect person too, bound to miss things. In ‘real’ relationships where real intimacy can flourish, and by that I mean “knowing each other’s thought processes, an awareness of differences and similarities in preference, opinion, attitude, ideals, values, goals, beliefs, etc”, you are no longer alone. You have a mirror in which to reflect back to you your own short comings. When one or both people are enmeshed with each other, this mirroring cannot happen. We were all created to know in part and see in part, not always able to see the whole picture. Relationships where real intimacy exists are designed to aid in helping each other grow and flourish by helping point out the blindspots. Some things are so ingrained in our being, habits, and learned behavior that we do not see it on our own and need help to see and discover. In trusting relationships, this can take place when we gently share with each other and are open to receiving from each other, someone to point out our flaws.

So, as we have both been growing on this new journey of discovery of who he is apart from his people pleasing, he has begun to mirror some of my own learned behavior and bad habits in communication. So once, where conversation seemed to flow so seemlessly, now we are discovering some of the habits of not so effective communication that neither of us saw before. For which I am truly grateful for now, to have the accountability for my actions, rather than the fear of trying so see my own blindspots and knowing I must be missing stuff. We both are committed to having an amazing marriage and are always working towards bettering ourselves and each other. We really are a good team, and each other’s biggest supporters… dare I even say each other’s biggest fans?

So here are some tips we have been practicing to better our ‘art of communication’, that I would like to pass on to you as well, as they are truly beneficial.

Starting with a “when you…” statement, such as “when you interrupt me” as an example, the next step is to add an “I feel…” statement, such as “I feel like you are not listening to me, which makes me feel unimportant and hurt” or whatever the feeling is.

Next step: Mirror back -reflect the person’s message, how you intertreted and what you received. eg. “let me see if I’ve got that” and “is there more?” Continue this part and clarify until you both feel comfortable that the other person is receiving the correct message.

Validate: 1.See how what your partner is saying makes sense 2.Seeing your partner’s point of view through his/her eyes 3. Stand in the other’s shoes so to speak, to see how his/her world makes sense to him/her 4. Not necessarily agreeing 5. Take ownership for what you can, ie: “this makes sense because, I did that to, or I am like that sometimes”

Empathy: 1. Mirror your partner’s feeling eg. “you feel…” 2.Imagine what your partner might be feeling underneath what is said 3. Attempt to experience/feel the feelings eg. “If I were you I would feel…” and if you did that to me I would feel…too”

Then partner #1 Continues (The first person to bring up the issue being addressed) “Could you….” “So that…”

Partner #2 mirrors again.

Now Partner #2 gets to say what they feel or how they see this from their perspective. Then switch. It is now partner 1’s turn to understand and repeat the above process.

This sounds like the perfect model for a conversation. Sadly, doesn’t happen that way most of the time. Some of the areas we personally struggle with, is when I bring up a subject that I need to address, sometimes I feel like I am not getting the validation I need, or that he will jump in with his own issue and dismiss mine without completing the process, or get defensive and start telling me everything he is doing that is right. I also feel like he is not always clearly receiving the message I am sending, and filtering it into a different message than I intended to communicate. On his end, he often feels that I am making assumptions, or jumping to conclusions, feels like I always need to be right or “win”, that if he doesn’t give in to my point of view or perspective I am not happy with the outcome. He also feels threatened if I raise my voice, and is hurt when I get overwhelmed and frustrated and lose my calm and allow the conversation to degrade from being constructive. These are the things we are currently working on to ensure we are taking ownership for our own assumptions, not asking the other person to take ownership of something that is not theirs to own, ie. expecting someone to be a mind reader, as an example, etc. all while trying to learn to communicate effectively to bring healing and growth opportunities in our lives as individuals as well as within our marriage.

I hope some of these tools help you as well if you are wrestling with communication in any relationship. Ask your partner if he/she is willing to work through the above process to develop more effective communication patterns. The art of communication is an on-going process that takes more than a little time to work on, until the pattern becomes habit. Even when equipped with extensive knowledge on how to communicate, communication breakdowns can still occur, as in our story from above. It is often extremely beneficial to seek an outside perspective from a counselor or coach to help remove the roadblocks preventing you from having effective communiction in your relationships, especially if you find that even after trying the above exercises, it is not working effectively and one or both of you are unable to find where the breakdown is occuring and identifying the blindspots to communication. Sometimes the outside perspective adds the clarity you lack in the moment! Good luck with learning the ins and outs of effective communication!

If you’d like to look at another great resource, check out my one-on-one Relationship Coaching Program which will equip your relationship with the tools it needs to grow!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.

Katie Meilleur – Certified Relationship Life Coach

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