Fear in Communication

Written by Adam Martin, LPC,
Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

We’ve all been there; we’re having a good day and then we feel the climate unexpectedly shift within our relationship. Why? What happened? What caused the sudden change in emotion from positive to negative? Why did their behavior impact me so much? Should I say something?

These are just a few of the numerous questions that come flooding into our minds as we sense a change. Either a change in our own feelings due to our partner, or when we sense a change in our partner. Along with these questions can come fear; fear about if and how we should deal with it. So the real question becomes: What can I do about that paralyzing fear?

In many relationships, there is an underlying theme of fear in communication. When something happens, one party is playing 20 questions in their mind and seem to more often than not fall into the “play it safe” mentality. This can be for many reasons: you’ve been dealing with some stressful issues lately and don’t want to add to the number of things that need to be addressed; things have been going well lately and you don’t want to derail the progress; you want to avoid an argument; you don’t want to hurt the others’ feelings; you are tired of hearing how “all you do is complain”, or you convince yourself that “talking never works”. For one reason or another we choose day after day to let these changes go unaddressed, but at what cost?

Allowing these issues to go unaddressed can do many things to a relationship, and they are rarely positive. Without immediately realizing it, resentment starts to build, doubt gets infused into the relationship, emotions run higher, irritability and frustration are more easily triggered, and couples start drifting apart. Often times one of the people in the relationship is completely unaware that there is an ever-growing void developing until it has reached critical mass. This means that there is one party in the relationship that feels they are carrying the entire emotional burden alone, thus furthering the buildup of resentment towards the other for not caring, helping, or noticing. In the meantime, the other person ends up feeling stuck due to feeling totally blindsided by this information.

Before things get that far, those questions that seem to have no end, believe it or not, serve a purpose. They are present to alert you to a potential issue before it gets out of hand, much like a “check engine” light for your car. This little light is there to minimize the potential damage to something very valuable and important. When your engine breaks down, it increases the difficulty of day to day functioning much like the fear in communication does the same for your relationship. Yes, you can ignore the light and continue to cruise along day after day, all the while convincing yourself that everything is fine because your engine “seems” fine. But there will be a time you will desperately need your engine and you will start to wonder why it’s not working the way it should.

So how do you address these questions without causing the very thing we are afraid will happen? Here are a few helpful hints that may make it easier: First, there is no rule that requires us to approach, discuss, and solve the problem upon its immediate presence. So, take your time. There is no rush. It is much better to approach issues correctly rather than swiftly. Second, do not give in to fear. This allows you to be in control instead of at the mercy of your emotions. The importance of taking your time to approach the situation will really help here. Eventually the fear will diminish. After taking your time and thinking it over, you can approach the topic with less emotion (frustration, fear, anxiety, etc) thus increasing your chances for success. One of the worst times to address issues is when one or both people involved are emotionally elevated. Last, make sure that you are addressing the situation (behavior) and not the person (your partner). We want our partner to know that the behavior is bothersome and not them as a person. Make sure that you put thought and effort into your approach, being sure to communicate with the right heart and tone. Failing to do so may only reinforce fear in the relationship. If your partner feels loved and supported as a person they can better deal with the
behavior, eventually showing you that there is nothing to fear in communication.

Feel Better, Live Better: Marriage is The Capacity to be Empathic, Coupled with A Willingness to be Vulnerable

Shame is such an ugly feeling. It’s sneaky and vengeful and so very confusing. It covers us and holds us down like an anchor on a big ole submarine. It’s so very powerful, it consumes us until we discover its weakness – Vulnerability and Empathy. Isn’t it bizarre that vulnerability, something we think of as a weakness, is actually so strong it conquers something as big and powerful as shame? I find that amazing!

Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly”, tells us that empathy is the cure for shame. She tells us that shame cannot survive in the presence of empathy, understanding, and validity and that the way to express true empathy is by sitting with another person in their pain letting them know – “Yeah, I get it – me too”. What I’ve found, in my experience counseling others, is that to truly feel the pain of others – their sorrow, regret, fear, anger, etc, we must connect with them on an emotional level – without shaming. We must allow others to freely express their pain without judgment. But, in order to do this, we must first connect with our own emotional pain. We can’t hide from it and we can’t be shamed by it. Through our experiences with our own emotional pain, we come to know empathy and develop a need for connectedness to others. If I allow myself to experience my own pain without shaming myself, I can then love others through their pain without shaming them – that’s empathy.

I see a lot of couples in my practice and find that couples typically come into counseling because they feel disconnected – they are having difficulty feeling their partner’s pain – empathy. Couples come into the relationship from different worlds expecting things to be easy. The truth is, marriage is hard and nobody prepared us for hard. But nobody said it was going to be easy either, we just expected it to be easy because the hormones that brought us together were very strong and made love appear easy – The Infatuation Trap. Infatuation has one thing on its mind – hook-up and procreate! The thing infatuation doesn’t consider is that we are two different individuals coming from two different worlds with different likes and dislikes. From the time we are born until the time we die we are building what William Glasser refers to as a “quality world” from a book he co-authored with his wife Carleen, “The Eight Lessons For A Happier Marriage”. The things we put into our “quality world” are the things that bring us pleasure so my quality world is filled with romantic comedies, warm fireplaces, and hot cocoa while my husband’s quality world is filled with crowded restaurants, red meat, and cold beer. So you see there could be a problem after the infatuation period begins to wind down.

I am a visual learner so I use a lot of analogies to understand complex things. I see the marriage experience as kind of like trying to see and hear one another from the far side of the table, only this table is one of those really long ones you see in the movies set back in the days of kings and queens. So I’m sitting at my end of the table and my spouse, AKA “The King” is sitting at the other end of this enormous table and he can’t hear a thing I’m saying. He’s trying to hear me but I’m too far away. As the servants begin bringing in the feast, we begin getting further and further apart – all this food is coming between us. We become engulfed in the whole process and soon find ourselves becoming bored with one another because we never really got to know one another in the first place; we were too distracted by the show. Now we’re bombarded by all the junk we brought into the marriage from our previous lives – If I don’t clear away my own junk, it begins to pile up between us like unwashed dishes and rotting food and it just keeps piling higher and higher until I can’t see or hear you way down there at the other end of the table anymore and you can’t see or hear me either. The way we keep the table cleared is by being vulnerable – we have to learn to ask for what we need, “Hey I can’t hear you. Are you still there. It’s pretty scary down here all by myself. Can you clear away some of your junk so I know you’re still there?”

Being vulnerable is probably the scariest thing we do with our partners and yet it is the single biggest contributing factor to having a blissful and happy marriage. I think marriage is practicing the capacity to be empathic coupled with a willingness to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable with your partner is much like going into the arena, not knowing what to expect – one more analogy before closing. I tell my clients that being vulnerable in your relationship is like being willing to go into the arena without your armor or your weapons – Yikes! Imagine for a moment what that would be like if you lived back in the time of kings and queens and now we’re adding “Gladiators”! The vulnerability we experience in a love relationship is like agreeing to go into the arena (meeting one another in the middle) agreeing to leave our armor at the door (totally exposed) while also agreeing to leave our weapons at the door (completely defenseless). Why would we do such a thing – Because you are worth it; because the relationship is worth it! Leaving our armor at the door is like letting our guard down, going in without our shield – agreeing to not use things like reasoning, rationalizing, deflecting, appeasing, placating, or yelling to shut things down – these are the things we use to protect ourselves during relationship conflict. We also agree to go in without our weapons – agreeing to not strike back even if we are slammed to the floor – we agree to not use things like criticizing, judging, interrogating, controlling, attacking, disapproving, or yelling to make a point. Being willing to share the things we fear the most about ourselves, knowing all the while that we may get punched in the gut yet, we agree to not punch back; we may get shot in the heart yet, we agree to not shoot back. Why would we agree to do such a thing? Because you are worth it; because the relationship is worth it! And because my greatest desire is that you feel the same way. Sue Johnson, author of “Hold Me Tight”, describes this desire to nurture one another and be truly connected with one another like two porcupines in the winter needing one another for warmth but knowing the danger of being poked with those horrid quills. I think the only way to accomplish this is Me coming to You belly-up with my vulnerabilities exposed asking you to trust that I will meet you in the middle of the arena wholeheartedly – not only with My best interest at heart but also with Your best interest at heart rather than, halfheartedly – thinking only of myself.

I can just see those little porcupines shivering with fright, holding onto one another tight, belly- to-belly, praying they make it through the night. Can’t you?

Written by Tammy Kennedy LPC

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

Feel Better, Live Better: Love is patient, Love is Kind

“I believe forgiveness frees the heart and soul of a darkness that was never

intended to live there”

What I’ve seen in therapy is nothing short of a miracle because what I’ve seen is couples giving one another grace that does not come naturally. I’ve seen couples display acts of kindness that come only with love, but not just any love, this is an act of “true” love. Amazingly, these acts of love have been exhibited in instances where the very nature of human existence instructs us not to love at all but rather to act “as if” at war with the enemy. As beings of a higher order, we are capable of many things, but is true love one of those things? Are we capable of loving those who are a threat to us – those who have hurt us to the core – those whose very actions say they are at war with us? Maybe the more important question is – Is forgiveness natural? Is this true love?

The therapeutic process allows clinicians to see people turn from hate, distain, and distrust, potentially endangering their own self-pride, self-esteem, and self-worth, and turn instead to love, respect, and altruism. People choose to love, when given the chance. We are confused when messages are mixed between convictions and behaviors. We expect others to uphold their commitments to us and we’re blind-sided when they instead hurt us with acts of disloyalty, dishonesty, and vengeance. Yet when given the chance to forgive, we forgive. I believe this is a good argument for the existence of “true” love.

I believe we are born to be in relation with one another. I believe we have an innate longing for connectedness. I believe love is a basic need for survival. I believe we choose to forgive in order to maintain our natural need to love and to be loved; we trust those who have betrayed us to avoid disconnection. I have witnessed such behavior in couple’s therapy. I have witnessed the beauty of forgiveness for infidelity, dishonesty, and disloyalty. There is no greater pleasure to a therapist than to witness such forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift some of us never experience. Forgiveness is one of the most empowering acts human beings exchange with one another yet, it is one of the most difficult to offer or accept. Why? Because at first glance, forgiveness appears to be an act of weakness. People perceive the act of forgiveness as challenging to their self-pride, self-esteem, and self-worth. Forgiveness is one of the most humble things we do as human beings because it calls us to love truly. It calls us to love emphatically, loving “as if” from the heart of the very ones who have hurt us. Not only are we to set aside the pain they have caused but we are called also to put their needs before our own? How can we do this? Only through the act of “true” love. Forgiveness may be the most selfless act we ever offer; an unwillingness to forgive, stands in the way of altruism.

We can learn from one another the power of loving with our whole-self. A love that calls us to come to the middle “wholeheartedly”, a term used by Brene` Brown in her book Daring Greatly, Gotham Books, 2012. I think loving wholeheartedly is our chance to love others considering not only what’s in the best interest of “me”, but also what’s in the best interest of “you”. When we come to the middle wholeheartedly rather than half-heartedly, we come vulnerable, willing to step outside “me” to see “you”. When I see you first, I then love you truly. I’m then loving myself enough to give myself the gift of wholehearted love, a love that is the shared interest of both me and you – it’s unselfish, fearless, and completely vulnerable. It’s trusting me enough to trust you. That’s the kind of love I want, need, and desire and I believe it is a love that can be taught. It is by sharing through acts of humility that we learn to live out our most valued attributes.

Written by Tammy Kennedy LPC

Pinnacle Counseling

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

What the Mind/Body connection teaches us about relationships?

By Terry Richardson MSW LCSW

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

PinnacleCounselingNWA.com

Feel Better Live Better- What the Mind/Body connection teaches us about relationships?

Of the most important things we need to know about life, having healthy relationships is foremost. So where do we learn this vital information? It’s easy to identify relationships that aren’t working, a short read of the newspaper, fifteen minutes of the evening news broadcast or just standing in line at the grocery store reveals the difficult and sometimes tragic results of a relationship gone wrong. So what does a healthy relationship have? From my perspective, each of us, in our mind/body existence, are given a natural example of the potentially perfect relationship.

The essential elements of all healthy relationships are balance, contrast and complementarity. Effective application of these elements give us tools to interact with family, friends and coworkers, and how we treat ourselves.

In order to illustrate the mind/body relationship think for a moment about your body as a vehicle and your mind as the driver. The next time you get into your car, consider the relationship you have established with it because of the cooperative and collaborative agreement you have with it, you accomplish your purpose of being transported from point “A” to point “B”, and whether it’s in a Lamborghini or a Ford, the results are the same. The mind/body relationship your “self” is the journey you are on and the people in your life are passengers for the trip. Are you having fun yet?

Balance

What is balance? One physical definition is “the equalization of forces.” In other works, neither the body or mind dominates or assumes complete control. If you’ve ever experienced a stuck gas pedal wildly accelerating, had to push a car you’ve failed to fuel, or the frustration of an exhaustingly long trip, and in spite of “cruise control” your hands on the wheel – literally in “co-operation.” In a healthy relationship sharing responsibility is more productive than dominance or control.

Contrast

Night and day, sweet and sour, sharp and dull, old and young. Contrast is what helps us examine and experience one thing by knowing its counterpart. Though not always an opposite, contrast is an inescapable acknowledge of the other side of the coin, the “flip side” of what is known versus the unknown. Contrast helps us get clarity about our own identity by providing a framework of reference that makes us distinct from our surroundings. A healthy relationship creates a backdrop in our experience of life so that we might more clearly define and know who we are.

Complementarity

I would be ludicrous to get behind the driver’s seat and just sit there, waiting for the trip to start. Why? It is the interaction of all of the components involved that makes the difference. Complementarity is the harmonic blending of balance and contrast into action. It is the reason that apparently impossible things can happen – the reason you can” drive” to St. Louis in 5 hours. When we focus on complementarity in our relationships, conflicts created by power struggles and insecurities created by differences, dissolve. In a healthy relationship strengths and differences are assets that make the sum greater than its parts.

In my work as a psychotherapist, I often remind couples or individuals I am working with, that most people know more about maintaining a car that a relationship. That is primarily because we too often accept relationships as a “given” part of life, whereas a car is something we work for, and need to know how to take care of. Our learning about relationships “just happens’ through observation and experience (primarily trial and error) and when we do ask for advice we generally don’t consult the experts.

The next time you find yourself unhappily stuck by the side of the road, the mind/body owner’s manual of relationships might be the first place to look.

Tough Talks

Communication is the key to happiness where relationships are concerned. Both individuals in a committed and loving relationship should feel free to speak openly about anything. For difficult subjects it is important to say what’s on your mind in the spirit of compassion, love, and tolerance. Some topics are certainly easier than others. Here are a few of the most difficult:

  • Your feeling that your partner spends too much money
  • Your need to spend more time together
  • Your sexual preferences
  • Your partner’s sexual likes and dislikes
  • Your need to privacy
  • Your negative feelings about your partner’s family
  • Your partner’s personal cleanliness
  • Your partner’s bad habits
  • Your worst fears
  • Your past relationships

When approaching a difficult subject it may be best to start like this:

This is difficult for me. I want to talk about something and I think it’s important. But I think it’s a hard thing to talk about. Is now a good time to talk? I want to talk when you want to talk. It’s about ____________.

Have the Courage to be Your True Self

“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our own story is the bravest thing we will ever do.”

-Brene Brown

Vulnerability is scary.  It is so often avoided.  It means to show the parts of ourselves that we are afraid aren’t “good enough”.  But you know what?  Everyone has the same fear of not being good enough.  When we are held hostage by that fear, we miss out on our true happiness.  You live a life that you think others want you to live.

No one is perfect.  Perfectionism is a cruel joke.  Perfectionism makes us wake up every day feeling like we failed yesterday.  There is no joy in that life.  Dare to practice loving yourself for who you really are.

For more on this, watch this clip of Dr. Brene Brown on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YeulUgWNp8

or the full  TED talk:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

Rachael Nachtigal, LPC

Five things you can do for your marriage now. Number two. The three A’s.

The ability to change course in the middle of a fight is a powerful relationship skill. Most people do not have it. We can be so predictable in our arguments, so petty! Talk about the three A’s when you are both calm and relaxed. Practice them. That way you’ll be ready to use them as the antidote if your talk turns poisonous.

It’ll take a little courage to use them the first time. Someone is going to feel vulnerable. Do them in sequence. It should only take a minute. You can even preface by saying Okay, this is not working. I’m going to do a triple A.

Apology
Affection
Action

Apology — Take ownership for your part of the argument. Be honest. You’re trying to change the energy of the argument. Don’t take the easy way out by saying something like I’m sorry you’re being such a jerk.

Affection — As soon as you’ve apologized for your part in the argument, move towards your spouse. Offer a hug, a kiss, or reach out in some affectionate physical way.

Action — Pledge to take some sort of action. It’s better talk about something that you will do rather than something that you won’t do. I will treat you with respect is better than I will not call you names. Either way, follow through is the most important thing.

Communication: Reframing Disappointment

Honesty, respect, and love should be the principles that guide communication within families. Sounds good. But certainly easier said than done. No where is this more true than the expression of disappointment.

What is disappointment? It is the feeling that you have been let down by the actions of another. You expected more; they gave you less. Disappointment is a very real feeling, quite common. Feelings are right; they are to be trusted. But what to do with this particular feeling?

Caution is encouraged to those who you use personal feelings of disappointment to change or shape the behavior of a family member. This is not to say that feeling disappointment is wrong. It is certainly not. However, expressions of feelings of disappointment, particularly repeated expressions of disappointment over time, rarely lead to deeper feelings of honesty, respect, and love.

How does your disappointment feel to the individual you have identified as the source of your disappointment? That is the key question. Disappointment feels like a closed system. It feels like an emotional verdict –GUILTY!– pronounced on a past behavior. The sentence: separation, isolation, and judgement.

Is it ok to compare my spouse or partner to someone else?

     It can be a common practice to compare your partner to that of someone else you know and can be particularly true if you are not satisfied with your relationship.   Let’s say you selected a good partner and didn’t “settle” on just anyone to commit to, you need to remind yourself of just that.  After the honeymoon, or several years of being together, it can be easy to forget what a terrific partner you have and start asking your partner why they can’t be more like “so and so”.  While this can be common among couples, giving in to this kind of thinking can damage your relationship and here is why.

  •  Comparing can betray trust
  •  Comparing can make you both feel inferior
  •  It is easy to idealize someone you don’t know
  •  The novelty of getting to know someone you don’t know is temporary
  •  Comparisons are not fair or even comprehensive

     If you find that you tend to compare your partner to someone else on a regular basis rather than acknowledging the positive and loving traits of your partner, it may be a signal to seek help and in doing so, you may be able to get your relationship to where it needs to be.