The Irony of Relationship Communication

Sometimes we’re confronted by an internal sense that there’s something going on with our partner. Something we suspect to be about ourself. We can feel it brewing, perhaps see it in their eyes – but when we ask if anything’s wrong, they say that it’s nothing.

Sometimes we hesitate to express ourselves about an issue because we expect that what we have to say will hurt our partner, and we are desperate to protect their feelings. When asked, we might say it’s nothing, but the issue continues to pester us and resentment grows because we feel we can’t say it.

We might imagine that it’s easier to navigate our partner’s feelings by avoiding conflict. We know confrontation can be scary and we might worry that it will cause uncontrolled movement within the relationship dynamic. We may even hear things we don’t want to hear, and there might be yelling!

Sensitives and empaths might feel the other’s feelings and decide that’s enough – why bring overt communication into it? Those who are less sensitive may resign themselves to confusion and hope that things get better on their own. Empathic or not, we might begin to doubt ourselves – and as time goes on communication between the partners begins to dissolve.

This kind of situation doesn’t improve by itself with time. So the key concept is to use our words as the situation arises. The act of expressing what we are feeling necessitates that we get clear for ourself. Otherwise, the repressed feeling will continue to chase its own tail.  That doesn’t mean we have to say it perfectly or figure it all out, but it can help if we remember what it feels like on the other side of this dynamic. Hopefully we’re with someone whom we trust cares about our feelings. If we have faith in that, then it means letting go of trying to word a criticism that doesn’t hurt, or a half-truth that doesn’t reveal the heart of the matter. That doesn’t work. What we can do is speak with compassion, and hopefully love.

For the sensitive person, moderating their ability to tap into the emotional or feeling centers of others can bring up fears. It can be unnerving to let go of this because we might harbor the belief that it keeps us safe, exposes threats, makes us more available to connection, or helps us trust we are loved. Likely, this penchant to feel the other’s feelings materializes with friends, strangers, animals, plants and even inanimate objects. In the case of animals and plants, this can be quite a wonderful tool. But with humans, feeling others’ emotions is akin to energetic eavesdropping and presents a tremendous source of confusion and boundary issues – even when it’s unintentional. Everyone, sensitive or not, needs their own space to feel free and alive.

Readings or a practice of meditation and grounding can help to shift the gift of sensitivity from a level of insecurity towards its better uses: self-knowledge and the ability to communicate with forms of life that can’t communicate through language (parrots and coco the gorilla not withstanding). Through a practice of owning their space, an empath may experience a powerful sense of relief in having a respite from over-feeling, and over-sensing. It’ll be clear what’s theirs and what’s not.

For someone who is less sensitive, using words functions as a way through – a productive use of energy to maintain the buoyancy of the relationship. If we don’t understand our partner’s feelings because we’re not in touch with our own, we’ve got to realize the essential role shared communication plays in any relationship dynamic – it’s what makes the dynamic possible. But we have to give ourselves permission to make the first move.

This imperative to communicate doesn’t apply to EVERYTHING that we think or feel – it’s more for the stuff that you can’t let go of because it won’t leave you alone. And it doesn’t necessarily apply to issues that are yours and yours alone. In that case, we have to be honest with ourselves and ask ourselves if this is something the other person needs to know.

Finally, it doesn’t apply to every partner. Some people are in unhealthy and abusive dynamics that they can’t leave or are working on leaving. If it’s truly not safe to communicate with a partner, that tells you everything you need to know.

For maintenance of your relationship, use your words when the need arises. Practice what you’ll say, if you need to. But don’t practice imagined responses as a substitute for the real thing.

And don’t try to outlast your resentment by practicing until your brain aches. By all means, wait for an appropriate time. Sometimes the time and setting are not right, but if you are casually observant, you will know this. Don’t wait for your partner to ask for the 5th time if anything is wrong. And if you are the one in the position of listening, try to do so with an open heart.

The point is to know that we give what we receive. When we speak from the heart and listen from the heart, we find the relief we so desperately wish. The irony at work here is that in life, sometimes we must hurt in order to heal. That’s where love brings the balance.

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