In couple’s therapy, one skill that I regularly work on with clients is increasing the ability to communicate effectively with their partner. Sometimes our communications get twisted up with fears, expectations, and familiar patterns, which can be difficult to break out of.
One tool that I find useful is to “go meta”. Meta means self-referential. Another way to view it is the thoughts we have about our thoughts (or our words).
If you are feeling hurt that your partner forgot your lunch date, you might lash out at them in anger. As you are lashing out, if you examine the thoughts in your head, you might discover that you are lashing out because you are angry and you are angry because you are hurt. You are hurt because having your partner forget your lunch date triggers a fear response in you that tells you your partner doesn’t value you in the way you hope they do. The story you are telling yourself, that your partner doesn’t value you is scary, and that fear drives the hurt and the anger to more speaking out in anger because it matters to you so much and you really want your partner to see your hurt, and in turn, see you.
Speaking the meta means that instead of lashing out, you verbalize this internal dialogue. You might try, “It really hurt me that you forgot about our lunch date. I know you love me, but when things like that happen, part of me worries that you don’t really enjoy spending time with me. That scares me, because spending time together is so important to me and really helps remind me how much you care”.
Being able to share the fear that had previously remained tucked away inside your head creates vulnerability instead of anger, and reinforcing that the vulnerability is there precisely because your partner is so important to you helps create a place where your partner will also be able to express vulnerability rather than defensiveness.
Next time you find yourself in a sticky spot with someone you love, examine the thoughts you have about the words you are saying. Where are those words coming from? You might find those thoughts give you greater insight into what the real issue is. Figuring out the real issue is the beginning of greater effectiveness in your communication with your partner.
If you and your partner could use help identifying these meta thoughts, and learning new ways to communicate with each other, schedule an appointment with Alice today. 801-944-4555.