Thursday, July 24, 2008

How Can I Get My Partner to Communicate?


I was recently asked by a woman the best way to get her husband to communicate. This is important since couples must communicate in order to meet each other's needs. Also, such sharing can lead to intimacy or closeness, which in turn increases caring. Caring is the only motivation we have for placing someone else's needs above our own.

This woman indicated she had pursued her husband's self-disclosure, but he was resistant. She wisely noted that she did not want him to see her as critical or nagging.

I think the best way to "bring out" a man is by being vulnerable with your feelings, saying, "I feel distant or I feel lonely even when you are close." If he says he doesn't care how you feel, then you've got a bigger problem than communication. If he cares, he will try to figure out how to repair the chasm between you.

Being vulnerable means that your tone is soft, without a hint of aggression. Being vulnerable also means that you are sharing your view and your feelings, not describing his failure to communicate.

Despite being vulnerable, some men will still respond defensively. It is important to respond, "I'm sorry you feel attacked, what is it I said that caused you to feel I was criticizing you?" After he sites the implied criticism, you can redirect him to your feelings. Keep the focus on your feelings and your desire for him to respond out of caring, not pressure to perform.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Anger or Intimacy in Marriage


Sally had gone through the same scenario many times. Bill would say he was going to play golf or go hunting on Saturday, and Sally would feel hurt that he did not want to spend time with her. But her response would be to simply say, "Fine," then go off in a huff of anger.

Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. recently wrote a piece that I enjoyed on anger (http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/200807/if-anger-helps-you-feel-in-control-no-wonder-you-cant-control-your-an#new). Here is my reaction to this blog in which he describes why we get angry instead of being vulnerable with our feelings.

Dr. Seltzer writes, "Yet feeling too detached from our partner can also revivify old attachment wounds and fears, so at times the dance changes and the distancer becomes the pursuer. The main point here is that anger, however unconsciously, can be employed in a variety of ways to regulate vulnerability in committed relationships." This is accurate, but I would say that the partner may be controlling tension in both situations - being angry or pursuing afterwards.

If you are angry you don't have to be vulnerable. You also don't necessarily have to be vulnerable when pursuing your partner. You can pursue through flowers, sex, a night on the town, etc. In working with couples, I teach partners to communicate their vulnerable feelings instead of "covering" them up with anger.

Intimacy requires the ability to be vulnerable in the context of your pain. You must be able to tell your partner that you are hurting. Many find it much easier to express anger or frustration than to admit pain. Simply expressing vulnerable feelings is extremely uncomfortable for many folks. They feel more powerful expressing anger. I teach that they are better able to get what they want if they can learn to express their feelings in a vulnerable tone.

The problem with anger is that it inhibits intimacy in relationships and makes negotiating the relationship colder. Intimacy builds when you can let your partner know what you need and your partner recognizes your feelings and needs. If you have a caring partner, he or she will warm to your needs and become less selfish in negotiating the relationship.

Sally decided to take a different approach, she said, "I understand that you enjoy golf and hunting, but I need to know that you also enjoy spending time with me. I don't want to keep you from those things you enjoy, but I need to know that you want to spend time with me." Bill responded, "You always bitch about my taking time for myself. I deserve some time with my friends; I'm not doing anything wrong." Instead of taking the "bait", Sally simply repeated her message in a soft tone of voice. Bill walked away.

The next weekend, Bill made it a point to spend time with Sally and she made it a point to show delight in their time spent together. She also noticed that on subsequent weekends Bill would talk to her about his plans and let her know that he was trying to balance his desires for sports and her.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Stop Letting Others Control You Through Guilt

Allowing others to use guilt can result in your losing the ability to get what you want in relationships - it gives others power to define the relationship the way they want. Guilt can be expressed through:

1. "The Freeze" or "Silent Treatment"

Creating emotional tension to have one’s way in a relationship.

2. "Good Guy vs. Bad Guy"

The controller interprets his or her motives positively and suggests that you will go along or be labeled negatively.

3. “If You Love Me”

Some guilt inducers try to get their way by suggesting any denial of their desires indicates that you do not love or care about them.

4. “Everyone Is Doing It”

This effort suggests that popular opinion or expert’s advice sides with the individual’s desires. You are foolish if you do not agree with the majority opinion.

You must change your beliefs:
  • Stop telling yourself that giving in is no big thing.
  • Stop believing that what you want is bad or wrong.
  • Stop believing that you don’t have a right to an opinion, or that your point of view is less legitimate than someone else’s.
  • Stop trying to please the guilt manipulator.
  • Stop giving away your power.
  • Stop letting the guilt inducer dictate who you are and how you should feel.

Also change your response:
Let the person know that you understand their feelings and desires (Use listening skills.), but maintain your right to your desires.

Decide whether your desires are desirable and therefore open to compromise or whether they are something you do not want to do without, hence nonnegotiable. Stick to your guns - let your no mean no!