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Closer to the Edge: Fractures In Our Communication Skills

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When there is a breakdown in the communications between a couple there are two parts to restarting and reestablishing the trust and warmth that was there just before “OH SHIT” entered the picture.

Snapping to Attention

It is not uncommon for one partner to go off the deep end on occasion. It’s what growth and trust is all about. When the fracture happens, it is important for both partners to admit they had a part in the rupture. That’s step one. There are a lot of other steps.

  • There was a break, someone is angry and frustrated, perhaps scared as well
  • Both partners try to examine the issue from their own perspective and give an honest account of what happened
  • In reflecting and comparing notes it is best if the “heat” of the issue is somewhat calmed down
  • As we understand the other person’s concern or confusion, the rest of the process is getting to clarity about each person’s needs and future requests
  • If you get bogged down in the anger “imagine how this makes me feel” part of the discussion it makes it impossible to rebuild the bridge back towards the loving connection.

When a waiver (word choice)  in the force happens both partners will react in their own way. If one partner is unconsolable, perhaps it’s a moment to pause and get outside help. If both partners have the ability to cut through the momentary disruptions and set their collaborative sights on the path ahead for the relationship, there’s a good chance that a simple REPAIR is enough to give relief.

No Rescue Is Coming

When a difficult conversation goes south for a couple, it might be a good time to take a pause and examine each partner’s needs and motivations for being in the relationship. If the repairing heart/mind is not open for restarting the journey towards LOVE and TRUST, there is no sense in trying to rebuild a bridge with materials that are still on fire. The fire in a conflict can burn irreparably. If there is still heat in one of the partners, it’s best to seek additional firefighting resources.

As the person on fire, it’s confusing, frightening, and threatening. When your partner doesn’t get it, or can’t provide you with the information, assurance, or comfort that you need you have got to call for a time-out and find what you need to regain your personal center of gravity. Your partner cannot be your firefighter. Your partner can be your co-pilot, your companion, even your champion, but cannot heal this unexpected internal fire that burns in you. And, it’s not really in their job description. Squabble, yes. Disagreement, yes. Miscommunication, yes. Unquenchable fire, no.

In a very difficult period of my marriage, my then-wife said to me one morning after we’d just done an hour of yoga together. “There is no rescue coming. No one is going to save us. This is just us.”

She was in a bit of a crisis herself at the time. We both were. Mine had to deal with 9-11 and the 100% loss of my online marketing business. Her’s seemed to be more of an internal struggle. She was unhappy with her work. (Probably her marriage too.) And she wanted to discover her next job, and find some role that inspired her. She wanted to find some way forward in her life as a new mom who wanted a nice house in a nice neighborhood with nice schools, but she didn’t want to work full-time. (I didn’t either, but I’d been holding down that role since our first child was born.)

Two Healthy People Make a Healthy Couple

In loving relationships, we are ALWAYS (100% of the time) looking to empower our partners to be the healthiest and the happiest person they can be. We have limited abilities to influence or help our partners. What we can provide is a positive attitude and love when they are struggling. We cannot make them happy. We can’t even ask them to do the personal work that might free them from their painful inner rage. We can’t do it. And we can’t really help them do it. And even suggesting, “Can you take this to your counselor,” are words of war. And, now that I think about it, very co-dependent.

What we do need in a successful relationship are two people fully-willing and able to follow Brene Brown’s BRAVING process. Here’s my quick outline for that.

I own my own sadness, my own anger, my own ecstasy. When my actions or words hurt the person closest to me, I have to take responsibility for my actions. I cannot take responsibility for their reaction. It is up to each partner to bring their best self, to assume the best, and give the benefit of the doubt when confronting a problem. When the bridge catches on fire and collapses, it’s time for either partner to call for a time-out. Take a break. Pause in the storm and find a safe place in their own individual corners. I will own my mistake. I will listen and reflect on my understanding of what you are telling me about this mistake. Then I will go off, on my own, and address what I can of this “mistake” with my care team.

The last and most critical step is REPAIR. Either partner can initiate the repair, but it’s most effective if the triggered partner is the one who starts the conversation with something like this:

  • i know I got upset
  • i spent some time thinking about it and talking to my care team
  • i am feeling more resolved about what happened
  • i will do better if this happens again, here’s my plan…
  • And, finally, I’d like to say I’m sorry and rejoin you on the newly constructed bridge across the raging river of life that swirls below.

Nothing Great Is Easy

Relationships between two dynamic and emotional people will always have sparks. It’s how you deal with them as painful embers, before allowing them to set the bridge on fire. If one partner is often throwing sparks, getting triggered, blaming the other partner for their frustration and pain, there needs to be an agreement and process put in place to reduce the chances of allowing those sparks to become bridge (trust) fires.

How you fight together can determine how well you repair. Both partners have got to have the ability to hit the pause button and say, “I’m taking a timeout” or even “I’m putting you in time out, while I go work on what is upsetting me so much.” Both partners have the opportunity to BRAVE even (especially) in a crisis. If you can learn to BRAVE as a couple, you’re on your way to building a workable partnership, set for growth and evolution. You’ve got to work thorugh problems in any relationship.

If you are not having any problems, that’s a problem, and might indicate one partner is holding or projecting the honeymoon phase. (There are no issues. We are perfect. Except when you fuck up. Then, I forgive you, and it’s okay again.)

As we continue to go for a lifetime lover, we’ve got to be prepared to learn, study, grow, stretch, and reach back to our lovers for the REPAIR. Either partner can go for the repair. And both partners should work towards the repair, even if the bridge is collapsed in smoldering ruins.  No bridge, no way forward. No repair, no trust or forgiveness.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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