Do your relationships feel stale? Are you wondering where intimacy is hibernating? Are you experiencing the “blahs” when you long to feel engaged, engrossed and connected? The sparkle may have fizzled or been stillborn. Now, your feelings of closeness may be hitchhiking towards the hills.
Unlike most skills, we are rarely taught how to communicate on a deep level. And in our busy lives, we often share the details of our days rather than the contents of our hearts. Intimacy is a habit that needs fostering like a good tennis serve or cleaning the trunk of the car. And the results are far more beneficial.
Start small. And start with yourself. (Its so easy to expect “the other” to be responsible for communication and connection.) Avoid setting up a “serious conversation”. Its almost guaranteed to build stress and cause avoidance. Be more forthcoming about your own feelings. Use phrases like “I wonder if…” or “Sometimes, I doubt whether I…” or “I’ve noticed I’m happiest when…”
State your feelings rather than your opinions on topics that are important. If what you’re saying includes the word “that,” hold back! Warning: most sentences of feeling that contain the word “that” – aren’t! They’re judgments! Use your smarts here. Think about it. Saying something like “I feel that she [or you)…” is not stating a feeling – its an opinion. That’s very different. Feelings words are words like: ashamed, embarrassed, sad, apprehensive, frightened, delighted, excited, nervous, serene, etc. Intimacy is built on feelings, not critiques. Watch how you express yours.
Ask questions about feelings too. “How do you feel about that?” is not the same as “What do you think about that?” Most of us express our thoughts far more readily and often than our feelings. Yet sharing what we feel is what connects us to another. When you’ve asked the question and your partner responds with, “I think…” listen carefully and try to focus on the feeling behind the thoughts. A gentle, “Umm, I get your thinking and am wondering how you are feeling.” This takes practice – for both of you.
Remember, a deep breath is a good tool to use before plunging in. Also, it’s not helpful to criticize by pointing out what’s lacking when your partner shares. Taking in the words and the emotions you sense in much more helpful. And then, noticing what this evokes in you – your emotions and what arises in your body. Sharing that helps bring the conversations into the “Now” and away from history or projection of the future. By far, more useful are questions that bring you both to where you’ll be sharing on a more meaningful level what is true in this moment.
Practice courage. When you find yourself avoiding a topic, analyze why it’s hard to bring up. Ask yourself, “What concern, need, fear or desire is attached to this topic. What am I trying to avoid?” You may need to ask this question many times before the answers reaches you through whatever filters you’ve creatde to bypass a difficult issue You may want to jot down the answers. The first ones may just begin to lead you down the trail to what is really at stake for you. Look closely at the thoughts that arise. When you can answer those question honestly you’re ready to bravely move forward. Know that successfully tackling these “hot buttons” builds confidence.
If the commitment to the relationship is bigger than the fear of the response you may receive, the courage to tackle the difficult topics will appear! Make that a question you frequently ask yourself when you find yourself “just letting it go.’ Letting “it” go rarely is. Most often it is shutting a part of yourself down.
There’s a sad truth about hot buttons. Usually the topics we avoid are those that need airing most. When you’re clear on what makes a particular issue a “hot button” topic, take a deep breath. Develop an “I” statement to open the dialogue. “I” statements avoid blame. They are statements over which we take responsibility rather than point a finger. “I feel frightened when weeks go by without cuddling,” or “I felt secure when you told your parents we couldn’t visit until my big project was over,” are examples of “I” statements. They open a meaningful conversation and invite sharing.
Be realistic. You can only work on your end of the relationship. And that takes practice, a sense of humor and courage. Like any skill executed with style and confidence, practice and realistic expectations are the main ingredients. And when you fumble, laugh at yourself. Failure is only feedback on how to succeed next time.
When working on creating connection, remember to start small, start with yourself, be ready to laugh at yourself. Develop courage, be realistic and be patient. And try and try again. The result is strong cement that binds you with the human race, one person at a time.