One of the most important parts of a relationship is the foundation of trust. This can seldom exist without healthy and effective communication, and yet many people struggle to articulate their genuine thoughts and feelings in a partnership. Rather than focusing on the basic how-tos of communication, the real work lies in deconstructing what is blocking us from communicating.
There is a quote by the Persian poet Rumi which can be the basis of a therapeutic approach for couples and individuals:
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
If we were to replace the word “love” with “communicating,” what would this illuminate? What barriers have we inadvertently built between ourselves and effectively communicating?
In order to communicate effectively, we need to be vulnerable. Vulnerability, according to Dr. Brene Brown, is the willingness to show up and be seen without knowing the outcome. Effectively communicating means tapping into our vulnerabilities and shedding the desire to blame or attack. So, what blocks us from vulnerability?
Most of us grew up in homes where vulnerability was seen as a weakness. If we grew up in an environment where healthy and effective communication wasn’t modeled, this can be a subconscious barrier. As humans, we absorb learned behavior from very early on. How did you grow up? What did you observe?
We also need to look at the most difficult things to communicate with our partner about. Are they typically emotionally charged conversations, or are we conflict-averse and have a hard time broaching issues that come up, like disagreements? Once we know what we struggle to communicate about, we can look more deeply into the barriers. It is only in deconstructing barriers that we can walk through them and into health.
Healthy communication encompasses:
1) The ability to practice genuine empathy
2) The ability to practice perspective taking
3) Not jumping into a solution-focused, fix-it mentality
4) Not blaming or attacking
5) Pausing before reacting
6) Asking yourself what’s really going on
Anger is a secondary emotion, which means there is always another emotion underneath it. The next time you get very angry at your partner, try to pause and ask yourself, what’s underneath this? It is most commonly fear or pain. Expressing those two emotions makes us feel incredibly vulnerable, so it is human nature to jump to a place of anger or rage to protect ourselves from feeling exposed or weak.
If you have never truly learned how to effectively communicate with others, try to be gentle with yourself. Most of us aren’t taught how to put ourselves out there in the proverbial arena of vulnerability, rip the mask off, and be our most authentic selves. It can feel very counterintuitive. But if loneliness stems from a lack of authenticity in our relationships, then communicating authentically is the antidote. And unless you can identify what’s blocking you from your own authenticity, then there is no moving forward.
Hannah Rose, MS, NCC, ACRPS, LCPC is a therapist, writer, and public speaker. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Goucher College in 2012 and continued her studies at Johns Hopkins University, where she received her Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in 2015.