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.
What does a blender have to do with communication you ask? Well, pull a chair up to the dining table, and I will tell you:
First, I want you to consider a scenario where someone prepared you a nice meal that you enjoyed. Envision that plate of food. What made it so enjoyable or delicious to you? How did it smell and taste? Were those sensations distinct from one another? How was it organized on the plate? Did your friend take your taste into consideration when making the dish? How much time went into preparing it?
Now, I want you to envision something entirely different. Imagine rather, that person took those same ingredients, piled them into a blender, sent them for a whirl, and poured you a nice thick glass full. As you take a big swig, can you distinguish clearly between all the ingredients? Does it slide down the throat nicely, or are your reflexes pushing it out? Are you feeling nauseous just thinking about it? What’s wrong? It’s the same ingredients, same food. Why not eat it this way?
It doesn’t take a world class chef to tell you why that wouldn’t be the same and why this concoction definitely would not be appetizing. Now, consider how communication is the exact same way as this meal. If we really want someone to digest what we are saying, we need to thoughtfully take our time, take their tastes into consideration, and plate it nicely for them. If we want someone to take in what we are feeding them, it needs to be palatable to them. Sometimes in communication, we take the haphazard route of throwing it all in the blender and serving a cup full of sludge. Then, without any consideration for the other, we can’t understand why they didn’t take in our cup of sludge.
So, does this mean for effective communication we should just serve up cake every meal? No! We all know that would lead to a sick or even dying body (or relationship). Like it or not, sometimes we need to eat things that aren’t our favorite in order to be healthy. Are you willing to take the time to find the preparation of that ingredient that tastes the most palatable for your partner, child, etc.? Some people like broccoli cooked and some like it raw. Some like it covered in butter with salt and pepper.
In my experience as a therapist, I’ve watched countless hours of couples serving one another “meals.” As they progress in the therapy process, they learn to put the blender away and begins plating beautiful meals for one another, after which no one has a problem listening or digesting.
For help putting your blenders away and plating some really nice dishes, consider making an appointment today.