By Athena Staik, Ph.D.
Communication is the life tool with which we may create and strengthen our relationships, and relationships are all about emotional safety and meaningful connections.
Communication is a tool like no other. Whether verbal or nonverbal, it is to your emotional and mental health, and relationships, what food and water are to your body. You may be wondering, if talking is such a “loving” activity why do you experience so much pain in your communications with one of the most important persons in your life, your partner?
Communication is not the problem; the real problem is allowing your subconscious minds to communicate in your defense, rather than communicating in conscious, deliberate ways that grow you personally because they energize life in your relationship. Just as we cannot not communicate, we cannot not relate. Therefore, it is not a question of whether or not communicate, rather a question of how you relate when you communicate.
How has to do with the emotional signals you are sending, distinct messages about how you feel about one another that either enhance or diminish the quality of your couple relationship. You may not be consciously aware of these signals, however, your subconscious mind is, and hypervigilantly so in situations where it thinks you perceive a threat or danger.
Alas, you are your partner are wired to seek fulfillment in the giving and receiving of your gifts of love. At the same time, you are also wired with a drive that propels you to seek to be known, recognized and valued as a unique individual. This is part of your quest for meaning and purpose in life.
Thus, the strivings for a deeper connection, on the one hand, and the strivings for being valued as unique being, on the other, create a natural tension in our relationships, seemingly pulling and pressing from opposite directions.
This tension, however, is critical to our well being. It is there, not to torment, rather to nudge us to learn what we need to know to find fulfillment, and realize all we can be as self-actualized beings. A healthy life is much like walking on a tightrope. The opposing pressures are actually invitations to learn how to live life in balance. Power struggles are inevitable in our relationship. They are the schools in which we learn both how to create and influence and make happen, as well as how to stand back, fully accept and let go. Both are essential capacities to cultivate, as we learn to manage our emotional states.
When we embrace painful emotions and fear as teachers, they help us learn how to protect our happiness, a task that is essential to us in order to realize the full richness of life. While this tension is uncomfortable and painful, it is not what produces the problems we face. In fact, suffering is a result of avoiding or not responding wisely to painful emotions we feel. Avoiding pain may be the primary culprit responsible for much of the suffering in couple and family relationships.
The real obstacles are certain meanings our brain has recorded and believes are true, in other words, a host of lies and illusions. What are the obstacles?
1. Fear of painful emotions and fear itself
One of our biggest obstacles is that your parents, like most all parents for many generations, did not know how to regard painful emotions, their own and their loved ones, as important teachers, opportunities to connect at deeper levels of meanings or action signals! Instead, you learned to go to one extreme or the other, either avoid, deny, reject painful emotions or fear—or wallow in them—in order to fulfill your needs to either connect or be recognized for your uniqueness. In either case, your sensory-self is hyper-vigilantly, to some degree, in charge. This means you are in survival mode, a state, where your “fight or flight” gets easily triggered, that you are not designed to be in for long periods of time. Your body burns enormous amounts of energy in survival mode. It is designed to do so to help you survive the occasional crisis. Afterwards, it needs time to repair! When the sensory-self is in charge, it is hyper-vigilantly guarding against enemy attacks in situations where, well, you are just at home with your loved ones!
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