There are a few simple communication techniques that work like magic in relationships, whether with committed partners, friends, co-workers or relatives. One of the most effective is reassurance, which is simple to do , and calms both of you down, which allows your discussion move on without struggles. When a discussion begins to get difficult, if you learn to stay calm and reassure the other person you’ll find it works very effectively. As you practice reassuring yourself and each other, it gets easier to do, and the more reassurance you give each other, the easier and smoother your discussions will be.
When you and your partner, friend, co-worker or relative are accustomed to arguing or struggling to be “right” and make each other “wrong”, your discussions can be blocked by the fear that every conversation will be just another struggle, someone is going to lose, someone will end up feeling bad, or nobody will win. Worse yet, after all the hassle, frustration and resentment, the problem could still be unsolved. So, when you propose to talk about something, the response is “why bother?”
If the other person won’t talk about a problem, it may be because he or she fears the outcome of the discussion. Determining the source of the fear (is it fear of losing? fear of arguing or fighting? fear it won’t work?) gives you an idea about what is needed to reassure your partner.
Reluctance or refusal talk is usually the result of one or more specific fears, such as:
- Fear of being manipulated or overpowered: When one of you is more verbal than the other, the less verbal partner can feel overwhelmed and inadequate, and those feelings lead to not wanting to talk at all.
- Fear of being taken advantage of, made a fool of, or “conned”: If there’s no history of this within your relationship, this fear may come from elsewhere, such as a past relationship or early childhood: For example, older kids or siblings always took advantage of you. Those feelings persist, and even if you overcame them in business settings, they may come up when you become close enough to a spouse to feel vulnerable.
- Fear of having another fight: When you have a history of fighting with each other, both of you can become reluctant to begin a conversation (or to get into a serious discussion) because you are sure it will become a fight.
- Fear that the process will be a long, complicated hassle (hard work) without a worthwhile result (a waste of time): This fear can come about when you’ve had a lot of stubborn struggles which get nowhere.
- Fear of losing, or having to give up something important: You or your partner might be reluctant to discuss an issue because one of you suspects you might be wrong, and doesn’t want to admit it or give up a bad habit.
- Fear that a new approach won’t go well or work at all: When you’re making changes in how you talk to each other, especially if it doesn’t work well when it’s brand new, you might be resistant to trying again.
Each of these fears, and any others that might come up, can be discovered, communicated and reassured, and the following guidelines will show you how.
- DO: Gently let your partner know that you think he or she is avoiding a conversation, by mentioning what you observe: “When I asked if you wanted to talk, you said yes, but then you disappeared. Are you reluctant to talk about this?”
- DON’T: Criticize or accuse your partner. What you observed could be wrong, so ask your partner if your guess is correct, and he or she is reluctant to negotiate.
- DO: Ask for an appointment to talk again.
- DON’T: Accuse your partner of being afraid to talk; just acknowledge your own fears, if you have any. Perhaps your fear is that he or she won’t talk to you.
- DON’T: Deny your own behavior. If you argued in the past, acknowledge it, and explain what is different now: “You’re right, we did get angry and yell before, but we both realize that doesn’t work, and we’re learning a new way.”
- DO: Make some agreements about what to do if your discussion becomes a problem. “If this starts to be difficult, we’ll take a break.” Knowing that you have a strategy to take care of yourselves if things don’t go right will give you the additional confidence to talk.
- DO: Reassure each other. Make an agreement that you will honor each other’s opinions, play fair and seek a mutually satisfactory outcome. Let your friend or partner know that you care about his or her wants and needs.
- DO: Agree to do whatever you can to create a pleasant experience with a desirable result. Knowing how to reassure each other will enhance your communication, your intimacy and your sexual connection. In chapter four, you’ll learn how to make transitions, which will further enhance your communication and intimacy.