These principles apply to any relationship, whether it be between romantic partners, parent and child, siblings, friends, shopper and store clerk, or strangers. Obviously, depending on the situation and how important the relationship and the outcome are to you is going to affect how you choose to handle the situation.
Many people hate conflict and therefore avoid it. Fear that making a request or reporting negative feelings might lead to a fight, they remain quiet, meanwhile suffering with feelings such as resentment, powerlessness, feeling unloved or unimportant, hurt, and sometimes hopeless. Obviously this is not ideal. Whereas one is seeking harmony, without communicating about things that need to be communicated about, one actually has “pseudoharmony” with negative, unspoken feelings between the individuals, which creates distance.
At the other pole is what the people above assume is the only other option. Out of feeling hurt and angry about unmet needs or a boundary violation, one might communicate angrily at the other. The angrier one feels, the more likely one is to feel a sense of urgency in acting, and may fire off an angry communication, whether in person or electronically. Do NOT trust this sense of urgency. The anger you shoot out is like a boomerang; it will turn around and hit you in the face, hurting you, as well as of course the relationship, and the person you don’t really want to hurt. When one is angry, one is more likely to use unhelpful words like “always” and “never”, raise their voice, attack the other person’s character and so on. Offense is a commonly used defense, and often leads to escalation: an interaction that leaves both parties hurt, angry, and distant, or one party may withdraw, with the same bad results. The outcome in either instance is that the relationship now needs repair. The person originally wanting to set a boundary or have needs met, has not succeeded in achieving any of these entirely legitimate goals.
Some people lean towards the first pole, others towards the second, and often a person will sometimes adopt the first pole and sometimes the second. There are those who rarely say anything while resentment builds inside, then the volcano erupts over a minor issue because of the buildup of pressure.
Fortunately, there is a third approach. It is by far the most likely to provide you the desired outcome of feeling heard and reaching resolution without anyone being wounded. It fosters true harmony. This third approach involves CALMLY, gently, and non-blamefully expressing YOUR feelings and needs, and politely making a request or suggesting a solution. The more specific your requestsare, the better. It may be wise to preface your communication with reassurance that you are not attacking the other but just sharing your feelings. Also useful is to let them know that you trust that they care about you and the hurt was intentional, or perhaps acknowledging that they have been stressed lately etc. If appropriate, it is also good to explicitly acknowledge factors at your end. All of these measures invite their bodies to relax and help them feel safer, better enabling them to hear what you have to say. It is important to avoid long, repetitive, intense ventilating of emotions with blame or interpretation of the other’s inner world such as “you don’t care about me”. This is frequently a recipe for trouble. It is more effective to reflect ahead of time about: 1) what you feel and need 2) what you specific request is/what you want to achieve and 3) how to best express yourself succinctly. This approach will increase your chances of success. Speaking honestly from the heart and with palpable good intention can go a long way.
As the listener, it is important to receive the communication as simply information about the other, and not as blame.
If you are too angry to be able to communicate in this way, you need to take some time alone to calm down and use whatever tools you have to do so (eg see CREATING A POWERFUL INNER RESOURCE or EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TECHNIQUE article). You need to remind yourself that you are cared about, that others can’t read your mind, and that the other may have circumstantial as well as personal issues that affect their behavior, which does not mean not caring about you. You need to get yourself to a place of believing these truths in your body, not just knowing them in your head. Be sure that you are honest with yourself in slowly checking if you are feeling ready to communicate effectively. Otherwise, you may say all the right things, but that all-important tone of voice or other nonverbal cues can result in things not going well.
Be careful: you need to choose a good time to communicate. Bad times include when the other person is grumpy, tired, stressed, rushed, and so on. If it is appropriate, adding some warmth or touch to the communication often helps to calm the nervous system by reminding the person that you care about each other and are not enemies.
Even if the conditions in you are ideal and the timing seems fine, there is no guarantee that your skillful communication will be well received. If not, you can always postpone the discussion temporarily, and try again at a later time. This is much better than having a fight. (See DAMAGE CONTROL IN RELATIONSHIPS article). Knowing that disengagement is always available, and communicating in such a way as to increase the chances of success, you don’t need to remain quiet and resentful because of fear of a fight.
When individuals have had a lot of experience with communication involving negative feelings turning quickly into a fight, they are surprised and delighted to experience how well the calm skillful communication can work, especially with a calm tone of voice and without an edge.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it perfectly or if you fail to experience great success immediately. Just keep practicing. It’s a skill, and you will get better at it over time.
And it’s worth it… because you are worth it and your relationships are worth it! Your needs and feelings are important. Harmony in relationships is hugely important, as it affects everybody’s well-being.