• Sarah M. Neal

It's Not All Talk: Essentials of Communication in Relationships

There are two essential roles in communication: the speaker and the listener. Good communicators know how to be both. Some of us would prefer to be the speaker and others would prefer to listen. We need to learn to be both. We need to learn how to clearly speak our needs and our stance, but we also need to learn how to make space for others to speak and we need to LISTEN to them when they work to communicate their needs and stance.

One of my clients recently referred to me as a “Translator for Relationships”. It is what I do as a coach and a priestess.

Having sat between two or more people who were having a miscommunication of some sort many a time, I have found that most conflicts I have been a part of result from a breakdown in communication.

That doesn’t always mean that, although I may think that I am communicating well that the person with whom I am speaking concurs. And, it doesn’t mean that all conflicts can be resolved with clear communication. There are some conflicts that we just have to walk away from, or maybe we set the world on fire.

I am not always a communication Rockstar. In fact, when I am trying to communicate my needs to someone I usually fumble and sometimes fuck it up. I will say that my journey in the world of polyamory as well as my work as a coach and priestess have broadened my communication skills.

When we speak with someone, we must know our audience. We have to understand how the other person communicates themselves. Insight on how we communicate with others and how our communication techniques mesh with the people in front of us are also essential.

For the purposes of this particular entry I am going to write as though the conversation/communication is between you and a partner, however it can be used in conversations with friends, family, coworkers, and even children.

There are two essential roles in communication: the speaker and the listener. Good communicators know how to be both. Some of us would prefer to be the speaker and others would prefer to listen. We need to learn to be both. We need to learn how to clearly speak our needs and our stance, but we also need to learn how to make space for others to speak and we need to LISTEN to them when they work to communicate their needs and stance.

As a speaker, we must pay attention to our tone, body language, and how we word our thoughts. We should speak to our loved ones in a way we would want to be spoken to by the person sitting across from us.

When we are trying to communicate with our loved ones (particularly if we are speaking about a sensitive subject; expressing a grievance or concern; or trying to express a particular need) the difference between starting the conversation in a calm, sincere manner and going full-on offensive and combative can be the difference between a productive conversation and an explosive argument that can leave all parties involved way worse off than they were before.

I am not gonna sit here and tell you that it doesn’t sometimes feel like a great release to just start yelling and cussing. Sometimes I want to yell, cuss and start throwing stuff. I cannot lie. Sometimes the temptation to yell, cuss, and throw things is overwhelming. Sometimes the urge to yell and cuss gets the best of me and I will yell, scream, and cuss with the best of them.

Rarely are those conversations exceptionally productive. It is usually after my red-headed, Leo temper has burned itself down to a smolder and I am ready to speak calmly and then actually listen that the conversation turns more productive.

For those of us who get flustered when trying to communicate certain things, a journal can be your best friend. When our feelings and thoughts are all jumbled up and we are having a hard time putting our thoughts and feelings into words – especially words that would prove to be more productive than destructive – writing can help make sense of all the noise. When writing in journals, the words don’t have to make sense to anyone but you. Sometimes after we “vomit” all the emotions and words up on paper, we can start to come up with a plan as to how it may be best to communicate; we can figure out everything we need to say and how to say it.

If writing isn’t your thing, go take a long walk or get some sort of exercise that doesn’t require a whole lot of brain power. While you are getting your exercise on, you can start sorting through all the emotions and start coming up with your plan for communication.

The important thing here is to get all your thoughts sorted out:

  • What are you trying to express?

  • What emotions are you feeling?

  • What are all the things you need to get out in the open pertaining to this subject?

  • Are there words you definitely need to use? Are there words you definitely need to stay away from?

  • What do you need from your partner?

  • What might your partner need from you?

  • When and where would be the best time and place to have this conversation?

Once you have your head and heart sorted out around the topic and you are ready to start the conversation, there is nothing wrong with saying something like, “There is something I want to discuss with you. Right now, I need you to please listen without interrupting me.

Once I get everything out, I would really love to hear your thoughts.”

If your listener has a hard time not interrupting, it is OKAY to call them out on it. I would definitely want to do the first “call out” firmly but gently and not start screaming “I told you not to fucking interrupt!”

Once you get everything out, it is VITAL you put in time as a listener.

We are usually so focused on getting out what we want to say, or inserting our thoughts and feelings into the conversation, that we don’t always take the time to REALLY listen to what our partners are saying.

Sometimes we are so focused on being right, heard, taken care of, getting what we want and need that we don’t always want to put forth the energy to really hear what our partners are thinking, feeling, needing. We expect our partners to listen to us, but we don’t always want to listen to our partners.

I certainly have that problem from time to time. I have to catch myself to keep from interrupting during many conversations. It isn’t because I don’t want to hear what they have to say, but it is usually because I already think I know what they are going to say or because I am really excited to insert my own opinions or thoughts. While I am working, really hard, on NOT doing this, I do slip up. Sometimes, I am cognizant enough to catch myself and apologize before they have to say anything. Sometimes I am present enough to keep my mouth shut until my partner is done talking.

Sometimes, I don’t catch myself and it is more than a little inconsiderate of me.

We’re human, we fuck up, we must work to do better.

Listening can be painful. There are times when we must listen to things about our behaviors that we don’t want to hear. Sometimes there are things we have to listen to about our partners’ behaviors that we don’t want to hear.

Sometimes being the listener means sitting in complete silence while the speaker figures out what they want to say and being okay with that silence.

I knew someone who would constantly use the phrase, “I hear you” when she was in the

Listener role. She would sometimes say, “What I hear you say is…” and kinda give a recap of what she heard.

While I do think it is important to acknowledge what you hear your partner saying and then recapping to make sure you understand, I really loathe the term “I hear you” as confirmation. It sounds like therapist talk.

While there is nothing wrong with a therapist saying that to a client, when I am having a conversation with someone I deeply care about, I want them to FEEL me and I want to FEEL them. I want to FEEL where they are coming from, not just HEAR it.

I find that I can be far more compassionate if I FEEL where someone is coming from or what they are saying. If I can FEEL their emotions or thoughts, then I can better support them.

Try replacing “I hear you” or saying nothing with “I feel you.” You can then get some clarification, “I feel like this is what you are saying.” If you got it all wrong, try asking your partner to please be patient and help you better understand what they need from you.

These clarification processes can mean the difference between productive conversations and destructive conversations.

If we feel like we are not being heard or that our partners don’t understand what is going on or what we need, things can fester or turn into an argument-or a worse argument for that matter.

We aren’t always going to get it right when communicating with our partners. It takes a lot of work and practice. Freyr and I and Tyler and I still definitely have our issues when it comes to communicating the not so fun stuff.

I don’t think learning to communicate well is a one-and-done process. I think it is a constant practice of learning about ourselves and how we communicate. I think our abilities to communicate on any given day is affected by our moods, what is going on in our lives, past traumas, and the subject of what is being communicated.

What is important is that we keep working on being better communicators. We work on speaking our truths and our feelings, and we work on listening to the truths and feelings of others. We work on trying to communicate with consideration and compassion. We work on knowing when to leave a conversation before it gets out of control, unhealthy, and unproductive. We work on making space to communicate our thoughts and feelings and we allow others the space to communicate their thoughts and feelings.


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