Communication and Discomfort
Love and affection have a unique ability to make us more willing to compromise. They can make us more selfless, less narcissistic. In a world where individual comforts matter more than the communal good, relationships offer the beautiful pleasure of finding oneself in more than one’s physical self.
While that in itself is a great thing, it is possible to lose yourself so deeply that it starts undermining your individuality. The healthiest relationships are one where both partners are able to retain both the freedom of their individuality and the security of the relationship. The process of losing yourself can start in the most innocent of ways: by not communicating discomfort.
It is difficult to communicate discomfort in relationships. Many people worry about hurting the feelings of their loved ones, or the conversation degenerating into a fight. However, keeping mum about issues that affect the both of you is hardly a good strategy as it leads to long term resentment. So how does one go about doing it?
– Choose the time and place: It is important to choose the time and setting of the conversation in a way that you’re least likely to be interrupted during it. Establish a setting where you have ample time with each other, and there are no distractions around.
– Communicate desire to have a conversation: Keep your partner informed about the need to have a conversation. Give them a general idea of what it is about so they’re not anxious about it. Tell them things like, “It’s no big deal. But I feel like I need to talk about something that affected me.” Ask them when they would like to have the conversation. You don’t want to catch them at a bad time. You need them to have the time to process all this.
– Establish a sense of security: Start the conversation by establishing the sense of security in your relationship. Talk about how you feel about them. Start by talking about what you think is great about them. Maybe ask them how they feel about your relationship. When you establish a position of security, insecurities are less likely to disturb your conversation. Both of you will be more likely to have an open mind.
– Do not attack: Relationships are complicated, and have a deep association with our identities. When you’re angry and hurt, it can be easy to slip into attacking language. “You don’t care about me” or “you’re so selfish” are examples of attacking language. When you use this language, your partner is more likely to get into a defensive mood and be less receptive to the conversation.
– Use ‘I feel’ language: Talk about how you feel in those words. A good way to talk to your partner is to start with talking about how you feel at that moment. Next, talk about how long you have been feeling this way. Then talk about when you feel that way. Or what they did to make you feel that way. Some examples of the “I feel” language are:
o “I felt left out.”
o “I feel sad about not being included.”
o “I feel dismissed when you speak to me that way”
o “I feel humiliated when you make fun of me in public”
– Listen: When you’re having a conversation, it is easy to get so caught up in your hurt that you forget to listen. Active listening is an important part of communication. Active listening is different from hearing in the sense that it is the active effort in clearing your mind of assumptions and making an effort to empathise. It does require quite a bit of practice.
– Aftercare: Sometimes communicating discomfort can lead to hurt feelings. Even if you do everything right, sometimes either or both of you may end up with some pain. The good thing about being in a relationship is that you know what calms the other person down. Actively invest in aftercare as an important step after a difficult conversation. It doesn’t matter if you think it was their fault. As a partner, don’t shut them out, or let them deal with it on their own.
The thing about healthy relationships is that over time, these routines build naturally so you don’t have to actively keep these in mind over and over again. You figure out a rhythm of having difficult conversations that works for the both of you. As you express yourself over and over again, with time the difficulty, the anxiety, and the defensiveness goes down because you both feel safe in the relationship. When you do, remember to take a moment to acknowledge the health of your relationship.