As a relationship coach, I get to hear all different types of ‘stories’ about how a good relationship has taken a turn for the worse, as well as worries about how to successfully navigate this dilemma.
And though every couple has their own unique issues (no two couples are exactly the same), the common theme for all troubled relationships is some type of disconnect and a lack of clear communication about how to resolve the cause of that disconnect.
When a couple loses sight of being on the same team – and feel like they’re alone in their pain instead of together in their relationship – they tend to go into defense mode to protect their individual selves from more conflict and hurt feelings.
While this is a natural reaction to unsolicited pain, instead of communicating and addressing their disagreement in a healthy way, it often causes one or both of them to shut down and not want to communicate at all.
Is this common response a way of saying that no communication is better than “no” communication? Meaning, if the goal is to be on the same team and work through the conflict together, is it better to not communicate at all (no communication), or is it better to communicate with honest feelings of, “no, this is not okay for me” (“no” communication).
Challenging the Need to Feel Safe in the Familiar
Of course, on an intellectual level, it makes perfect sense that “no” communication is better than no (lack of) communication. But on an emotional level, it may not feel safe to share those feelings of vulnerability or to no longer accept things in your relationship that used to be acceptable.
Even when we know we want things to change, we feel safe in the familiar. And despite our knowing that the familiar no longer feels right for us, many of us go to great lengths to avoid change.
For example, let’s say you and your partner have been together for a long time, and he’s been a stable source of support for you in a number of ways. Perhaps he’s a great father to your kids, he’s good at contributing to needed income, and he likes to fix things (appliances, cars, etc.) in need of repair.
These are traits that you’ve relied on and appreciate about him, and maybe a big part of the reason why you chose to be in a committed relationship with him in the first place. But throughout the years of you two being together, on an individual level, you’ve grown and changed, and you now desire a stronger connection with him on an emotional level.
Your heart craves a deeper level of intimacy, and because this newly discovered (or deeper) need is something you haven’t asked for before, it feels awkward and unapproachable. Maybe you’ve even tried to express your feelings and needs, but it doesn’t seem like he’s receptive to what you’re asking for, and he doesn’t respond the way you’d like him to.
Since it wasn’t easy for you to speak up in the first place, and now he’s acting like the conversation never took place, this triggers feelings of rejection and/or abandonment and makes you want to curl up and cry.
Applying Strength and Courage
The example I just shared may not be the cause of disconnect in your relationship, but I feel confident you can tailor the specifics of your own experience and still receive the value of what I’m offering here.
It takes strength to admit when a relationship isn’t what you want it to be, and it takes courage to make the changes required to create the healthy and loving relationship you desire and deserve.
Because we are designed to grow and expand throughout our lifetime, what we need in our relationships in order for them to feel fulfilling will also grow and change over time. And since our needs naturally change over time, so does the necessity for new and updated conversations.
Conversations about uncharted territory can feel very scary, I know. But without the needed conversations, you stay stuck in a mediocre relationship at best, and trapped in a loveless relationship at worst. Or you jump from one troubled relationship to the next because you never give yourself a chance to learn how to work through conflict.
Effective Communication Begins With You
A healthy romantic relationship is a blessing and is meant to evolve into even healthier and more loving expressions of itself over time. Effective communication is essential in this natural evolution, and effective communication begins with you.
Yes, it takes two to tango, but if you’re not clear on your own thoughts and feelings before trying to communicate them to your partner, your chances of a successful outcome are greatly diminished.
Perhaps you’ve been wanting to have a needed conversation with your partner for a long time, but have been putting it off because you don’t know what to say – or you’ve brought it up before, but didn’t get anywhere with it. So it keeps being put on the back burner as you continue to suffer silently inside.
Or maybe you’ve just recently realized that you need to talk with your partner about feeling emotionally disconnected from him, and you have no idea how to say this because this is the first time you’ve felt this way with him and it’s hurtful and confusing.
Or, it could be that fear of the unknown has you worrying about whether or not you’ll be understood, whether he’ll reject what you’re saying, or whether he’ll be hurt by what you have to say.
Believe me, I understand all these feelings! There have been countless times when I’ve wanted to say something that was weighing heavy on my mind, but kept finding an excuse to wait until “a better time”. And every time I did that, I undermined my own value and added more stress to an already stressful situation.
5 Steps to Courageous and Effective Communication
It took me many years of painful relationship experiences before I learned how to change the unhealthy pattern of avoiding difficult conversations, and I’d like to share with you five simple steps that helped me do this.
- What do you need to say? Getting clear on what you need to say before you say it will help you communicate much more effectively. This is especially true when dealing with emotionally-charged situations. When feeling upset or hurt, it’s harder to get clear on how to communicate your feelings in a way that will be understood. And you want to be understood so that you and your partner can prevent the same hurtful situation from happening again, if possible.
- Why do you need to say it? I just gave one great reason for why you need to say it…so that your partner understands how you’re feeling about something that upset you. But there may be other reasons why you want to speak up about an issue, and it’s important to know those reasons. If it’s to express your frustration and get something off your chest so that you can feel better, consider another way of blowing off that steam before you talk with your partner, so that you can communicate clearly and calmly. Having an idea of your intended outcome for the conversation will help you better prepare for it.
- What’s stopped you from saying it before? If you’ve wanted to talk about the issue for a long time, but you’ve been putting it off, ask yourself what’s held you back? If it’s for the reasons I mentioned earlier – that you won’t be understood, you’ll be dismissed, or you’ll unintentionally hurt your partner’s feelings – what’s different now? If you still have those concerns, that underlying fear will affect the way you communicate, so it will be even more important to have the clarity and confidence to say what you need to say before you actually say it. If there are other reasons, have they been addressed? And do you feel confident about the conversation you need to have?
- What will happen if you continue to keep it to yourself? If the issue you need to address is painful, and you’ve been afraid of the potential outcome, it makes sense why you’ve been avoiding it. However, continuing to stuff it down will only worsen the pain. As scary as it may seem, if you want to take charge of your life and the health of your romantic relationship, the conversation will need to take place at some point, or you’ll just keep repeating the spin cycle of frustration. This is no way to live a life of quality, and you deserve better!
- Do you love yourself enough to ask for what you need in your relationship? For me, this was the biggest step of all! Until I learned to love myself as I am and accept all of my ‘imperfections’, I didn’t feel truly worthy of having everything I need for a thriving relationship. This is a big part of the reason why I kept putting off the dreaded conversations. Another key factor was that I didn’t want to hurt my partner, but I finally realized that I was already hurting him by not being completely honest with him. Failing to speak up about what needed to change meant I was hurting both of us.
Be Willing to Say Yes to Yourself and Your Greatest Life
These five steps are simple enough to understand, but not always easy to implement! Just like anything in life that we’re still learning, it takes practice. And it definitely helps to be willing to learn from these lessons…things like self-compassion, forgiveness, persistence, patience, etc.
In my own experience, there are still times when I struggle with these types of conversations, but I’ve learned to no longer avoid difficult issues by stuffing them down. And I do my best to embrace the opportunity for growth that inevitably comes when facing my own fears.
Turns out, things have always worked out for my greatest good, and I trust they always will. I want the same for you! Do you want the same for you?
Motivational speaker, author and life coach Tony Gaskins said: “Communication to a relationship is like oxygen to life. Without it…it dies.” So then…
- Are you ready to face your fear of the unknown and have the needed conversation even if it feels difficult?
- Are you willing to listen to your heart, speak your truth and ask for what you know you need in order to feel satisfied in your relationship?
- Are you ready to say yes to yourself and your greatest life?
If you need to strengthen your muscle of courage, remind yourself that it’s perfectly natural (and healthy!) to grow and change and to want different things as a result.
It’s okay (and healthy!) to say yes to what you do want and no to what you don’t want – give yourself permission to be honest with yourself and your partner. And remember, “no” communication is better than no communication.
If you’d like additional guidance and support for courageous and effective communication in your relationship, be sure to see the P.S. below.
If you have a personal story of courageous communication that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it! You can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We have the power to inspire each other through our personal stories, and if it’s a good fit, I’d love to share your story of inspiration with the HEALTHY Path to Love community!
Stay tuned for more mindful messages and other valuable resources – giving you helpful tips and exercises to improve the quality of your life and relationships!
With love and support,
Healthy Relationship Coach
Licensed Heal Your Life® Coach
P.S. If you’d like to feel more confident and courageous in your relationship, check out the details of the free Relationship Breakthrough Session I offer. After reading the description, if you feel the RBS is a good fit for you, use the “check my calendar” link (on that same page) to schedule a time that works well for your schedule, and you’ll soon be on your way to gaining the clarity, confidence and courage needed to move forward in a new course of action. ❤