Have you ever found yourself on either side of this conversation?
A: “You never look up and acknowledge me when I get home. You’re just buried in your phone.”
B: “I didn’t realize I have to greet you every time you walk through the door.”
A: “See, you can’t even acknowledge that I want you to say hello. Did you at least take out the garbage like you said you would this morning?”
B: “You want me to stop what I’m doing to attend to you, after I’ve been out all day attending to everyone else’s problems.”
A: “What do you think I’ve been doing all day? I’ve been working my ass off here, too, organizing, scheduling, running errands, and cleaning everything.”
A: “Right. Now you’re gonna say how lucky I am to have conversations with adults all day.”
B: “Well, how many times have you had to change diapers, use baby talk, and manage tantrums?”
Many of our daily frustrations can easily be placed on those with whom we share our lives and our spaces. These can result in unnecessary arguments and patterns of negative, scripted exchanges. I help people in relationships navigate these interactions so that they feel rewarding and connecting, rather than disconnecting and enraging. With compassionate communication, lovingkindness, and emotional clarity, partners can name their feelings, identify their unmet needs, and make explicit requests.
I like to guide my clients through the following steps to attain these goals:
- Notice physical sensations in your body
- Notice thoughts that come to mind – what stories are you telling yourself?
- Distinguish between what you can take responsibility for and what you’re blaming others for
- Take a deep breath; make the exhale longer than the inhale
- Move your body (jumping jacks, push ups, sweeping, juggle something in your hands, etc.)
- Ask your partner(s) when they are ready to discuss feelings
- Use compassionate communication (observations, feelings, needs, requests); ‘I hear you,’ I understand you,’ ‘Help me understand what you mean,’ ‘I get how you’re feeling.’
Together, we can flip the script on these aggravating conversations. Here’s a modified conversation, one where a partner is silent and unresponsive to your arrival home, and where you engage in self-awareness and empathy to communicate:
A: “Hi Honey, I’m home!”
Met with silence. Notice sensations and emotions that appear because of the lack of response.
A: “Hi Sweetheart, how was your day?”
Silence again. Notice sensations and emotions again. Take a few minutes to set everything down, change into comfortable clothes, acknowledge your feelings. Approach your partner, sit down calmly next to him/her/them, and take a deep breath.
A: “Hi Honey, I hope you’re feeling relaxed after a long day. I noticed when I came in and said hello, I didn’t hear you respond. I tried again and didn’t hear anything. When that happens, I feel invisible. I need to feel wanted and welcomed home. When you call back and I hear your voice, I become calm and feel heard. Would you help my transition home feel more loving?”
There’s a healing power in stating our feelings (“I feel sad…”) and having someone validate those feelings with follow-up statements (“I get why you felt sad when I didn’t respond”). When we acknowledge our feelings and those of others, we are less likely to withdraw and are better able to communicate authentically. We create a safe environment, one where we can be honest and vulnerable with each other. With time, effort, and practice, partners can own their stories, and turn harmful scripts into helpful conversations.