By: Logan Cohen - Professional Therapist & Life Coach
Our Romantic Relationships are important and like many other parts of Life they are maintained by our ability to use communication skills effectively. If we have a problem communicating our needs and wants effectively to others , this can REALLY put our Relationships out of whack in other areas of our Life. When we are children, the most important Relationships we have are with our Parents because we are so dependent on them. Do we feel safe with them? Are we free to explore our environment and grow within reasonable limits? The answers to these questions and how we are taught to communicate through them with others lays the foundation for Balance in all of our future Relationships. As we grow up, we begin to rely on and eventually prioritize social relationships outside the Family a bit more, until we hit the pinnacle of what us Human Beings tend to prioritize interpersonally, the primary intimate (or romantic) Relationship.
When we enter adolescence (and occasionally later in years if a late bloomer), we begin to enter into these primary romantic relationships with about as much zest as the Human Race is capable of showing. This basic drive to commit ourselves to a Romantic partner is one of the most important aspects of developing and maintaining Balance in your Life, as well as that of your Partners’, and not to mention any future Family Members (including children who might be delivered by "the stork").
First, we must be clear on the basic premise of this concept. Just as the “Old Timers” have said in the movies, I believe that you should find a partner that fundamentally makes you BETTER. As a Marriage & Family Therapy practitioner and supervisor with over 10 years of experience, I fundamentally KNOW that ALL social relationships should somehow make us better, in that they should enhance our Lives. Since the Romantic Relationship is arguably the most intimate Relationship a Person will have during the course of their lives, the Romantic Relationship should REALLLLY make our Lives better!
This does NOT mean increase your access to material wealth, get you “high fives” from your old Buddies or jealousy from your Boss, or somehow otherwise match up perfectly to your own personal portfolio. What I DO mean as a seasoned Marriage & Family Therapist is that in Romantic Relationships, we must have a
Balance between two fundamental communication skills if we are to get all we can from our most intimate Relationship:
1) Ability to provide an emotionally safe landing spot when your Partner is scared or insecure. This is the basis for feeling safe in your relationship and is referred to as a “secure base” in attachment theory, which is the founding theory of the most prominent couples therapy frameworks in modern clinical practice today. It is strongly associated with relationship cohesion (staying together), optimal trust, as well as increased resilience from each Partner in the face of their own life stressors and challenges. This is essentially the place where we can communicate our need “lick our wounds” until it’s time to get out there and “get back on the horse”.
2) Ability to use communication skills to provide honest information about what is OK with us versus what is not OK with us, often referred to as our boundaries. This is the space where we can be direct with our communication skills, even have spats and confrontations with each other when it is time to address something that is no longer OK with us or otherwise unsustainable to our boundaries being respected. Our ability to do this over time will ascertain how much of us gets to “show up” and really communicate our needs in a relationship. While this is uncomfortable, the business of developing past our comfort zones is not inherently comfortable. If it was, everybody would be doing it all the time and plants would grow all four seasons in a year.
The fact of the matter is that growing past the limits of what we perceive as safe in order to maintain our integrity is truly an important process and if you really DO want to “be all that you are destined to be,” then this is something essential to learn how to utilize your communication skills to navigate through
It is the dynamic tension between these two facets of a Romantic Relationship, the alternating abilities of the Partners to on the one hand cool and soothe the space between them, while on the other hand provide themselves and their Partner with opportunities to grow past preconceived comfort zones, IS how we authentically GROW in a Relationship. This might sound overly simplified, but managing this dynamic tension at an appropriate level of intensity WITH the communication skills we develop in those spaces, is the “magic” behind what makes a Relationship not only fulfilling, but also beneficial for both party's personal growth.
While this might be a relatively simple sounding concept, the communication skill-sets involved are oftentimes tricky for Couples because Partners have a unique, albeit effective way of bringing out each others’ STUFF, unresolved “baggage”, or if you would like for me to sound more like a Professional Therapist, their past unresolved wounds. Over the years as a practicing Professional Therapist who works predominantly with intimate Relationships, have learned that it is these places, these perceived battlefields of assumptions based on our worst fears and greatest insecurities are the very spaces we must face. And in proportion to our ability to face these old skeletons in our closet, we will be able to grow, our Partners will enjoy their own growth, and our Relationships will maintain enough stability to last us through the years with those newfound communication skills.
Since this can be tricky and even downright HARD, especially in the face of your own fears and insecurities, I took the time to create a few communication skill templates that I have used to assist Couples with navigating these high stakes conversations (characterized by a a reactive and/or personal feeling topic) in my private practice.
Below I have included these templates for two essential communication skills to successfully navigate a tense conversation with a Loved One. Let's take a look at these few conversation skills for maintaining Balance in your most intimate relationships:
First, there is a statement of personal expression called an “I Feel Statement”.
Second, there is a model of how to respond to a Loved One who is conveying an emotional statement of personal expression. I call this template "Emotional Dialogue" and has been it has been designed to convey validation and empathy, which are two key components to feeling safe when one is upset.
Together, these two communication techniques can be used between Loved Ones to dig deeper into personal emotional experiences when they are most difficult by communication their most intimate thoughts and feelings directly without threatening their partners' position. These two communication skills are the most important when it comes to keeping your most intimate relationships in Balance and meeting each Party's integrity.
The I Feel Statement is a template I utilize with clients to assist them in more thoroughly processing their emotional experience, then present it to their Partner. It is designed to be used in order to keep the focus on the individual having an emotional experience who is ready to speak about it in a non violent/threatening way, however still emotionally based on their own subjective experience in an “I focused” way:
I Feel Statement:
1) I feel _____________________________ .
(insert emotion here)
2) When ______________________________.
(insert context here)
3) Because ____________________________ .
(insert personal meaning here)
Just as we walked through the skill-set of the I Feel Statement above, let's do the same next with Emotional Dialogue. This is another technique that can be introduced with a simple template (included below). This is a communication skill that provides the soft and safe landing space referred to earlier.
It sends the message of unconditional love, conveying that “I love every part of you, even the parts of you that you are scared of or think are not good enough”.
When your Partner is in an emotional place (hopefully they were able to employ the “I Feel Statement” shared above), this is what you can use to respond to it in order to convey that you are not only listening, but also that you love them. This is going to look too simple to be true:
1) Validation - quick summary of main points in "I Feel Statement"
2) Gratitude - some version of "thank you for letting me know how you think and feel"
3) Empathy - guess of Partners' emotional experiencing
Validation (can be described as “tracking”, or a quick summary of what has been stated by the speaker). Once someone hears this accurately enough, this communication skill prompts a personal sense that the listener was actually hearing them. Gratitude is a clear expression of thankfulness that your partner is sharing their thoughts and feelings with you. They do not have to be, but they are, and I find the expression of gratitude here is a great reminder to the listener to stay thankful that their loved one is sharing themselves openly with them. Last, but certainly not least, we have Empathy. Empathy is a bit of a “buzzword”, but have no fear because it is NOT complicated - this is merely a guess of how you imagine the speaker feels give the circumstances. This can be as simple as, “That sounds scary!” or “How frustrating!”
By utilizing these two communcation skill-sets, I have taught many Couples how to successfully manage the spaces between them when things get their most tense and chaotic.
It has become one of my greatest pleasures to watch Couples plagued by years of unproductive fighting and stagnation in their Relationships and personal lives, who then learn how to navigate some of these REALLY difficult spaces in the name of Love and personal growth. And again I might be biased here as a Professional Marriage & Family Therapist, but I don’t know any better reasons than that.
My name is Logan Cohen and I am a Professional Therapist & Life Coach with over 10 years in the field of Counseling Psychology. I am a Clinical Supervisor for the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy, as well as the founder of New Leaf Counseling Group, LLC in Charlotte, NC. After spending tens of thousands of clinical hours with my own clients, starting a successful group practice, as well as a beautiful Family, I “picked my head up from the grindstone” to check in on childhood Friends & Loved Ones.
I painfully discovered that more than a few of my childhood Friends passed away at a young age from preventable health conditions and decided that as a Man, Husband, Father, and Friend, I could no longer stand by as People suffered in silence and self-destructed rather than ask for help. It doesn’t have to be like that and the holistic healing methods offered by the Balanced Man Plan is designed to help People “get unstuck” and break free from old patterns that are the barriers between Self & quality of Life.
The Balanced Man Plan is a therapeutic digital experience delivered through Self-Guided Coaching Plans created by a Male Therapist with the common barriers & strengths of Men in mind. The Balanced Man Plan has the goal of introducing a natural Balance back to Life so it is sustainable for the optimal Health & Well-Being of Self and Loved Ones - and ALL from the privacy and comfort of Home. If you have enjoyed what you see so far, check out our Self Guided Coaching Plans!