I’ve been working with couples, families and business partnerships for 48 years. Over and over, I’ve seen that there is actually just ONE issue that causes most relationship problems.
The issue is not what any given discussion or conflict is about – it’s about HOW you are talking about it.
For example, Ellen and Jeff have been married for 11 years and have two young daughters. One of their major conflicts is about parenting. Ellen, a stay at home mom, tends to be a caretaker, giving herself up for her children, while Jeff, often overworked and tense about supporting his family, is often emotionally unavailable to her and to the children. It’s very upsetting to Ellen that Jeff isn’t more involved with the children.
Whenever Ellen brings up the subject of the children, they end up fighting. When they first consulted me, they believed that their fighting was about their conflicts regarding parenting, but they were wrong. Their fighting was about HOW they were talking about the issue.
I asked Ellen and Jeff, in a Skype session, to discuss this issue, and I immediately saw the problem. Ellen’s energy when she brought up her upset was righteous, parental and judgmental, and Jeff’s energy was at first angry and defensive, and then withdrawn.
Both Ellen and Jeff were focused on controlling the other and not being controlled. Ellen’s parental and judgmental energy triggered Jeff’s fear of engulfment – of losing himself, and Jeff’s angry, defensive and withdrawn energy triggered Ellen’s fear of rejection. Neither Ellen nor Jeff was open to learning about themselves or each other.
If you are having problems in your relationship with your partner or others, I encourage you to start noticing your tone of voice and also ask your partner or others for feedback. I used to have a parental tone in my voice that I was completely unaware of, which always led to difficulties in resolving conflicts. I was shocked when my best friend pointed this out to me. It took me months of paying attention to my intention to control, which was causing my parental tone, for me to become aware of it. I had to do some deep inner work to understand that I was trying to avoid the pain of loneliness, heartache, and helplessness over others with my controlling tone of voice. If only I could get the other person to change, then I wouldn’t have to hurt.
In order to let go of my controlling parental voice, I needed to learn to embrace my painful feelings with compassion, rather than trying to avoid them by getting others to change.
Amazingly, when I finally gave up my controlling behavior, my relationships changed completely and conflicts became easy to resolve.
In my work with couples, I help each of them become aware of their intent to control and not be controlled, and the energy of their tone that results from their controlling intent. As they move from controlling to learning about themselves and each other, they are able to be kinder with each other.
As Ellen and Jeff moved out of anger, judgment, blame, defensiveness and withdrawal, and opened to learning about themselves and each other, they started to feel kinder and more caring toward each other. With their hearts open to each other, they were able to fairly easily resolve their conflicts, including their parenting conflicts. Their intent to learn and love, rather than their intent to control and avoid being controlled, made all the difference in the world.
Most people don’t realize how much their energy affects their communication.
I hope you start to notice your energy and tone when speaking with your partner, as well as with your children, your parents, your friends, and your co-workers. You might be very surprised at what you learn!