““If we are reacting out of what our emotional truth was when we were five or nine or fourteen, then we are not capable of responding appropriately to what is happening in the moment; we are not being in the now.
When we are reacting out of old tapes based on attitudes and beliefs that are false or distorted, then our feelings cannot be trusted.
When we are reacting out of our childhood emotional wounds, then what we are feeling may have very little to do with the situation we are in or with the people with whom we are dealing in the moment.” – quotes in this color are from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls
The single most important component in a healthy relationship is the ability to communicate. If two people have the capacity to communicate with each other, then any issue can be worked through to some kind of clarity.
For the purpose of this discussion I am going to divide communication into two levels: surface communication having to do with ideas, facts, details, concepts, etc. – and emotional communication. In reality, of course, all communication contains aspects of both levels – and in relationship, the emotional level is by far the most important and most difficult.
In terms of surface communication, it is very important to establish a common language. And I am not talking here about one person speaking English and one speaking French. I am talking about two people who speak the same language linguistically but have different interpretations of various words due to a variety of factors – i.e. raised in different geographic, religious, or cultural environments, different educational or economic levels, different life experiences, etc. Two people who are on Spiritual paths might speak a different language because one has been involved in Twelve Step Recovery while another has been pursuing a Shamanistic path or Buddhist or whatever.
It is very important, right from the beginning of the relationship to strive for clarity in communication. The single most useful tool is simply to ask. “How do you define that word?” or “What did you just hear me say?” Very often, you will find that what the other person heard was not what you were attempting to convey. Attempting to clarify and develop a common language lays a good foundation for further communication.
It is also vital to recognize that certain words are emotional trigger words.
“One of the greatest blocks to communication is that some words are emotionally charged. They are words that trigger an automatic emotional reaction within us. To use a trigger word in an argument – a word such as “controlling” or “manipulative” – can turn a discussion into a battle instantly. When someone flings a trigger word at us, or we at them, it is like we have just shot an arrow into them. It usually causes them to go on the defensive and start flinging some arrows back at us – or perhaps go into some other defensive mode, such as crying or walking out.
Using trigger words blocks communication. And we usually use them consciously (although we certainly may not be honest enough to admit it at the time – or even later, depending on the level of our recovery.) We use them in reaction – because we have been hurt or are scared, because we are trying manipulate and control the other person. (Using a word like “manipulate” or “control” to describe someone else’s behavior to them, is almost always an attempt to control and manipulate the person we are accusing of that behavior.)
For the purposes of this discussion, what is important is to realize that trigger words fall into realm of cause and effect. We are born with a certain personality – we are not born with certain words programmed as emotional triggers. Emotional triggers fall entirely in the province of experience. We have an emotional charge attached to certain words because of our life experience. In other words, we have a relationship to that word that is a result of emotional experiences in our life.” – Spirituality for Agnostics and Atheists
It is really important to identify what each person’s emotional trigger words are in order to be able to communicate – in order to avoid automatic reactions based upon the past. Old wounds and old tapes cause us to have emotional trigger words and it is vitally important to get conscious of what our own personal ones are so that we can learn to be less reactive – and to get in touch with what our partner’s trigger words are so that we can avoid them when possible. (i.e. In my early recovery I worked to stop calling myself “stupid” so much and changed it to “silly” because that felt gentler to me. For my wife however “silly” is a trigger word that feels worse to her than being called stupid.)
In terms of the emotional level of communication, there are many aspects to consider. I will touch on a symptomatic one here in this article and then expand on the challenges of emotional intimacy in the next Chapter (Chapter 11 – Emotional Honesty Necessary.)
The symptomatic one is something that may seem simple but is actually one that relatively few people in our dysfunctional culture have mastered – the ability to listen. In order to Truly listen it is necessary to be present – and the difficulty with being present is caused by unhealed emotional wounds. If we are not able to be emotionally honest with ourselves then it is impossible to be present and comfortable in our own skins in the moment. Obviously then, we are also incapable of being present with, and emotionally honest with, others.
Listening is far more than just the absence of talking or the appearance of paying attention. Listening involves more than just hearing the words that another person is saying. In order to Truly hear what another person is attempting to communicate, it is necessary to be tuned in to what is going on underneath the words. Communication is only partly about content – just as important in communication are things like body language, eye contact, underlying emotional currents.
When we are present in our bodies in the moment and paying attention it is easy to discern if the other person is really talking to us – as opposed to talking at us, or telling a story. In the beginning of any relationship, people tell each other stories about their past – it is part of getting to know each other. What is important is to be able to be present while telling the story. That involves not just listening to the other person but also listening to ourselves.
Being present starts with being conscious of ourselves – it involves listening and paying attention to ourselves and our end of the communication. If I am listening to myself while telling someone a story about my past, I can catch myself when I get to a part of the story that I have creatively embellished over the years. As we learn and grow, our perspective of our past changes and it is very important to be able to listen to ourselves so that we can catch ourselves in places where we have exaggerated or rationalized something from our past. One of the important parts of the healing process is telling our story – and if we just regurgitate an old tape by rote we are not being present and paying attention.
If we have the capacity to be present with ourselves while telling our story, that means we also have the capacity to be present with the other person. I can be in the middle of telling a story and see in the other person’s eyes that they aren’t listening – which gives me the space to stop and ask what is going on. If I am not present enough to see the other person isn’t listening then I am just talking at that person. And conversely, if I am conscious I will be able to recognize when that person is talking at me.
Communication involves being able to talk to and listen to – the ability to be present in our bodies in the moment.” – Romantic Relationships ~ The Greatest Arena for Spiritual & Emotional Growth Chapter 10 – Communication is Key
If you live in Southern California and want to learn how to do relationships in a healthier way it would be really helpful for you to come to my Intensive Training Day workshop. If you are alone this Valentine’s Day, this workshop can help you understand your patterns and fear of intimacy so that you can make better choices the next time you venture into the Romantic Arena. If you are in a relationship and find your self having problems with communicating and reactions – then it would be very helpful for you to come to my workshop together. I have posted a page withspecial offers for my February 15th workshop.
If you don’t live in this area, there is a MP3 recording of my workshop that you can download.
I have special offers for Romantic Relationships ~ The Greatest Arena for Spiritual & Emotional Growth on this page. (which includes offers for my other books also.)
When you purchase Romantic Relationships ~ The Greatest Arena for Spiritual & Emotional Growth Codependent Dysfunctional Relationship Dynamics & Healthy Relationship Behavior through Joy2MeU you get a personally autographed copy;-) but you can also purchase through Amazon.com and Amazon.UK.
The Greatest Arena is also available as two ebooks (each only$9.95) eBook 1: Codependent Dysfunctional Relationship Dynamics & Healthy Relationship Behavior (the first 20 chapters of The Greatest Arena) is available on Amazon and on Amazon UK.
Romantic Relationships ~ The Greatest Arena for Spiritual & Emotional Growth eBook 2: Deeper Within (emotionally) & Further Out (metaphysically) From Fear of Intimacy to Twin Souls (chapters 21 through 40 of The Greatest Arena) is available on Amazon and Amazon UK.
Romantic Relationships ~ The Greatest Arena for Spiritual & Emotional Growth eBook 1: Codependent Dysfunctional Relationship Dynamics & Healthy Relationship Behavior now also available as an audio book.