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Relational Communication 401

According to acclaimed relationship therapist Terry Real, all relationships go through inevitable cycles of harmony, disharmony and repair...

Instead of allowing ourselves to react by shutting down, storming out, or blowing up, when we take ownership of what's going on for us, share that self-responsibly with our close others and ask for what we need, we are actively taking a step towards that repair process.

That's a lot of words... so what might that actually sound like?

Well, first of all, try to remember that the person you’re speaking with is someone you care about, someone you've chosen to have a relationship with. The next step is to ask permission. Life doesn’t just stop when disagreements come up, and so catching your partner/family member at a time when they’re not distracted will better your chances at actually being heard. This could sound something like, ‘hey honey, there’s something going on for me, and I’m wondering if we can chat about that. If right now doesn’t fit, could we make some time later on that would work for you?’

Once you’ve gotten their go ahead, try walking yourself through the following steps:

  • Begin with the observables: “So I got home today and noticed that the breakfast and lunch dishes were still on the counter”.

  • Own your own narrative and its meaning: “I get really anxious when things aren’t neat and clean, and the story I’m running in my head right now is that cleaning up isn’t at all important to you. And for some reason I’m also making that mean that deep down I’m therefore not important to you either”.

Now you can stop right here and simply check out your assumptions (see below)**. But If you feel comfortable going one step deeper, you can offer both your feelings about the situation and what would best help you in the moment (the repair part).

  • Your feelings: “As I'm having all of these thoughts, I feel quite frustrated, sad, confused and even a bit scared that maybe I’m right, that you don’t care about me”.

  • The repair/action: “What would really help me is if you tidied up after you ate, and if you don’t have time, just text me or leave me a note saying that. I'm feeling a little unsettled, so I could also just use a hug. Can you do that?”

**For example, “the story I’m making up (about you leaving those dishes on the counter) is … am I seeing this right/is this correct/is any of this true for you?”

Remember, attempts at repair definitely don’t have to be perfect...

What matters is that rather than doing the same old pattern that leads to the same old disconnect, you are making space for something different to happen. Obviously it’s easier if both parties are on the same page, and both are making attempts to walk through a similar process. But even if you are the only one coming forward seeking repair, that action invites others to also change their part of the relationship equation.

How does all of this sound to you?

Feel free to leave a comment about your experience trying all of this out!!

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