Here’s a profound thought for you, behind every negative thought, word and action is a desire. When you lose your patience, get frustrated, or say hurtful things to the one you love, you are communicating a desire. Granted, this is a lousy way to go about it, but it is a desire, none-the-less.
The problem is that when the message (your desire) is burried beneath the sharp edges of criticism, the sting of negativity robs the receiver of any interest in seeing what it is you desire. Instead, she is probably building her own defense that will either justify her retreat (avoidance of the conflict) or her return attack (her defensive response).
Consider the following ineffective communication:
Partner A to Partner B:
(Criticism) “You are so unreliable and untrustworthy. You told me you would be home at 6:00pm. That was an hour ago, which is when this food was ready, and I had planned for us to eat.”
(Complaint) “Now the food is cold.”
Partner B to Partner A: (Defensive) “I had no idea you were planning to make dinner. (Criticism) You are so preoccupied with your own life, it never occurred to me you would be at home waiting for me, let alone that you would think to make us dinner.” (Complaint) “You never make dinner, in fact you barely say hello to me whether I’m home on early or on time. At least when I’m late you notice I’m here.”
Now examine how the communication is different when it is rooted in feelings and desires instead of criticisms and complaints.
Partner A to Partner B: (Feeling)
“I am disappointed that you were not home at 6:00pm. I thought that’s when you said you would be home, and I wanted to surprise you with dinner.”
(Desire) “I really wanted to spend some quiet time with you, connecting, because I miss you. We are both so busy lately.”
Partner B to Partner A: (Feeling) “I am sad that I didn’t get home sooner, too.” (Desire) “I would have loved sharing dinner with you. I miss you, too.”
One of four feelings can usually be found at the scene of ineffective communication:
1. The fear of not getting our needs met (rejection). When we create a story in our head that what we want will not be heard, received, respected, or provided, we may anxiously agrees in our communication as a way of protecting ourselves from the feared rejection.
2. The fear of having needs. Some people are not comfortable needing. It is a form of vulnerability to express desire, and doing so can be so uncomfortable for some people that they harden the message with criticism or complaints, almost in an effort to hide the desire.
3. The feeling of unworthiness, or difficulty believing that we are deserving of what we desire. This feeling of wanting but not feeling worthy can create an internal conflict that manifests in an external conflict.
4. Feeling wronged or betrayed. Sometimes we are critical because things are not as we would like them to be. Sometimes we feel wronged, mistreated or downright violated in some way. In these instances, our criticism and complaints become a boundary that distances others.
The goal is to understand one another. You have a choice to be heard, or not to be heard. How you approach your communication will determine whether or not your message is received. You have remarkably more influence over whether or not you are being heard than you might imagine. Express your desires more directly and clearly, lose the criticism and feel more connected. Try it, you’ll like it. So will your partner.