How to feel more connected to your loved one
By Russell Davis, Fertility Cognitive Hypnotherapist
The stress of infertility can put a strain on the best of relationships. My wife and I had a 10 year journey of infertility and know first-hand of the impact it can have on a relationship. I am thankful for some of the things I learned about myself, women and relationships that I am indebted to.
Dealing with infertility can be tough enough on its own. Unfortunately, a study found that the pain of infertility can cause even more pain and heartache. Couples who didn’t have a baby after fertility treatments were more likely to break up.
For the study, which was published in the journal ‘Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica’, Danish researchers tracked 47,515 women who were evaluated for infertility over 12 years. After the 12-year follow-up period, it turns out that the women who didn’t have a child were up to three times more likely to have divorced or ended their relationship with the person they were with at the time of the study than the women who gave birth.
It is so easy to know we are loved, but it is how loved we feel that is the glue in the relationship. It is feeling loved and understood by our partner that keeps us feeling close regardless of circumstances.
I want to share a communication strategy that I teach clients, which can help couples feel more connected, united and ultimately more loved.
Taking time to check in with each other and really understand how each other feel about things is the glue that keeps us strong in difficult times. It’s about holding a space for the other person to feel safe to express themselves without trying to change or judge their feelings. It is having a dialogue with each other rather than a discussion. A discussion is a sharing of views, opinions and perspectives. A dialogue is seeking to understand the other person.
COMMON TRAITS OF A DISCUSSION
A discussion can often remain at a surface level for a number of reasons. Such as:
People can be thinking about how they are going to respond to what someone is saying more than deeply listening to what is being communicated
A discussion can tend to be focused on each person making their point, rather than seeking to deeply understand their partner. No-one likes to be wrong and we often end up protecting our corner more than understanding our partner.
Often there is not an acknowledgment or agreement to be totally focused and real with each other, one party may be trying to get the discussion over as quickly as possible so they can get back to what they were doing or stop their partner ‘going on’.
THE BENEFITS OF DIALOGUING
Dialoguing, however, creates a safe and loving container for each person to share a deeper part of themselves and for the other person to understand and connect with them in that place.
Our partner is another person that lives in their own view of the world, which is probably very different to ours. Neither is right or wrong, just different. To truly understand someone you have to get out of your model of the world and into theirs. This process can help you do that.
THE DIALOGUING PROCESS
The Imago Dialogue is a unique three-step process to create a connection between two people. The depth of communication it fosters can have profound effects on a relationship.
In order to connect with someone deeply, it can involve lowering our defense mechanisms. For me, it is coming out of my shell of thinking. I feel safe in there, no-one can hurt me emotionally, however, it also prevents me from connecting more vulnerably and thus more deeply. Intimacy is sharing of oneself. So, when I share more of myself with my wife I feel closer to her, more loved by her and more intimate with her.
In order to lower our defence mechanism, we need to feel safe to do so. We don’t feel safe to share our deepest selves if we fear we are going to be criticised, told we are wrong or shamed in any way. The Imago Dialogue process provides this safe container.
So, the first rule is that there is no judgement, blame or criticism of your partner. Even if you feel really hurt by them, this process gives you the structure to share how you feel without blame or judgement.
We do this by owning our feelings. No-one has the power to make you feel anything, you are experiencing your thinking about a situation, not the situation itself. We focus on the feeling we want to share, not what/who we judge to be the cause of them. No-one is going to listen if they think they are about to be blamed or criticised.
We also do this by listening without judgement. It is easy for me to think my wife has misunderstood a situation and the feeling she is sharing is unnecessary. Listening without judgement is listening as if everything they are saying is absolutely true, because in their model of the world it is true for them. It is their ‘reality’ in this moment and that is what they want you to understand. Denying what they are saying is to deny their feelings in the moment.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Agree when, and for how long, you are going to spend some time dialoguing and that is the most important thing for you at that time. Sit facing each other. Keep eye contact. Holding hands is a great way to remind yourself you are doing this to create a deeper understanding and connection.
Women are begging to be led by their man. I would suggest the man needs to lead this, to be responsible for making sure it happens, to lead his woman to the relationship she/you both inspire to have. The men are responsible for the ‘container’ of the relationship. Creating a space for the woman to be free to be the feminine energy they are.
THE THREE STEPS
One person shares his/her feelings or experiences to the other, owning the feeling by saying “I feel ...”. A useful phrase to use might be “When I think about X, I feel...” It is sharing a feeling, not a thought, judgement or criticism and owning it. We can be lazy with our language and use the words “I feel”, but what tends to follow is a thought or judgement rather than a feeling. Make sure it is a feeling not a judgement. Make sure you are not blaming something/someone for the feeling. “When I think about X, I feel” not “When you said X, it made me feel”.
The listener’s job is to listen with the intent to understand, not to respond. In response the listener plays back the words, either word for word or paraphrasing, to demonstrate they have heard. They could start by saying “Let me see if I have got you. You said...”
The listener could then ask “Is there more?”. Th is helps the sharer explore if there is anything else they want share on the subject. Give them space to consider whether there is more. This demonstrates to your partner you are open to what they have to say, whatever it is. If they share more, again demonstrate you have heard by playing back what they have said to give them an opportunity to check you have got it all.
Some mirroring phrases: “Let me see if I’ve got it...”, “I heard you say...”, “Did I get that?”, “Is there more?”.
This step is to acknowledge their experience verbally so they hear it. Validation is verbally acknowledging their experience as being valid i.e. not telling them it is necessary or they are silly for feeling that way or trying to correct them in any way.
You don’t have to agree with them to validate their experience. Remember you are getting in to their model of the world and seeing things from their perspective/mindset in that moment and acknowledging the reality of it for them. If something doesn’t make sense you can ask for clarity on what doesn’t make sense, but without judgement or whether it is right or wrong.
When you validate your partner you can often see a shift in their energy and their way of being as they feel accepted.
Some validation phrases: “That makes sense to me because...”, “I can understand that given that...”, “I can see how you would see it that way because...”.
So far the listener has demonstrated they have heard their partner without judgement. The next step is in some ways the crown jewels. It is going deeper from ‘hearing’ someone to ‘understanding’ them. More importantly it is demonstrating that you understand. You cannot say “I understand how you feel”, only the sharer can say “you understand” when you have demonstrated you understand.
We can all have a different experience of what we mean when we use a word. Once my wife and I both said we felt angry about a situation. When we unpacked it she was livid and I was annoyed. We both had a very different experience even though we had used the same word.
Empathy is demonstrating you understand their experience behind their words. Don’t listen to what they are saying, feel in to the energy of what they mean behind the words.
The best place to start is to play-back how you think they are feeling in your own words. “I imagine you are feeling scared right now, is that right?” Find out how strong the feeling is, perhaps on a scale of 1 to 10. Perhaps think of a time you felt the same feeling in your life. “Is it like the time I was scared I was going to lose my job?”. This gives your partner an opportunity to refine your understanding of their experience. They may say “Yes, that’s just it, but 100 times stronger”. Or they may say “No it’s not like that it’s like the time we got lost in the dark on the walk in the hills”.
The questioning and exploring helps refine your understanding of their experience behind the words, which demonstrates to them that you really understand how they feel. At the end you can check to see if there is anything else you could have acknowledged, but didn’t.
Some empathy phrases: “I imagine you might be feeling... Is that right?”, “Is it like [metaphor]”, “Is it like the time I...”.
HOW TO USE IT
You can do this for a particular issue you are facing in your life at that time or just as a way of checking in with each other and connecting at a deeper level. You can do it both ways and switch roles or do it one way.
Have fun connecting and feeling more united. I know it may not feel like it, but there can be some amazing gifts for you on this rollercoaster and I hope that a deeper connection between you and your partner is one of them.
FOR FURTHER ADVICE, CONTACT:
Russell Davis, Fertility Cognitive Hypnotherapist, Coach, Author & Speaker, www.thefertilemind.net