This week I have Dalila Jusic-LaBerge, LMFT from Westlake Village, CA, guest posting on relationship communication. She tells us that our needs might go unmet if we’re not able to identify and communicate them effectively. Incorporating a daily mindfulness practice into our routine can help us become more aware of how we’re feeling, allowing us to better understand what we need in the moment. Check out her post!
We Were Raised To Be Anxious Beings
We often hear, “Relationships are complicated." But, why are they so complicated? The answer may be simple. Relationships are complicated because we are complicated, due to an upbringing that fostered anxiety. For most people in our society, this anxiety has become intertwined with our being.
This prevents us from being authentic and being in touch with our true emotions, which is essential for successful communication and good relationships. Furthermore, we may be so entrenched with anxiety we may not even realize when anxiety takes over and makes our life a real struggle. When you put two people with this kind of mindset together, communication becomes difficult because the anxiety each of them brings amplifies this struggle.
Anxiety Complicates Communication
Our anxiety doesn't allow us to communicate openly and authentically. When you feel anxious, or simply when you are less relaxed, you come across in ways you don't intend. Other people may have a difficult time getting your true message, due to the different defense layers that you create due to anxiety and fear.
These defenses protect you from feeling exposed, but they also act as filters that don't allow your true personality to get through to the other person. Don't worry you are not the only one who goes through this. This is quite normal for all of us. In some ways, we were raised to be like this.
Your body language reflects your anxiety and signals caution to your partner
As you try to make sure your vulnerabilities don't become revealed, your body posture is assisting you in maintaining “safety." When you are anxious or have fear, your body is not relaxed. Instead, your body becomes tense, which signals to your partner that you are ready to fight. This further triggers your partner’s defense mechanisms, and they become tense and ready to fight or perhaps flee.
Have you ever seen your partner in a wide-open leg stance with their arms crossed and their chest puffed? This is one version of how your partner may look when they’re tense. This may also be their natural posture because of your partner’s need to assert themselves due to issues stemming from their childhood.
Thus, don't despair. You are not the only one who struggles with communication. Your partner in the conversation most likely has his or her own fears and anxiety, which prevents them from communicating authentically and understanding where you come from.
Your partner's fears and anxiety put them on defensive and then you get a negative, emotional reaction. Then the situation becomes tenser between the two of you. The downward spiral continues and the gap between partners may increase. Your anxiety and their anxiety paired with tense body language often lead to difficult communication and potential struggles in the relationship.
This leads to neither party feeling understood or cared for. This is why many therapists and relationship counselors tell you to work on your communication and listening skills.
Clear Communication Requires Authenticity and Empathy
Another important point we may forget is that the clarity and authenticity of communication are everyone's burden. Clear, authentic communication doesn't only involve you spilling your guts with all your opinions but also making sure that your partner understands you well.
This means being empathetic with your partner. You can understand how they feel when you say or do something. Basically, if you want to make sure your message is heard, you must adjust your communication so your partner gets it the way you meant it.
But, how can you be empathetic towards your partner, when you have a difficult time accessing your own emotions? Listening to your anxiety will help you be compassionate towards yourself first. It will also help you ease up and be able to empathize with your partner too. Start by practicing mindful communication. This means, you are aware of your feelings, what your needs are, and how you can communicate this so your partner gets it without feeling threatened.
From unaware to mindful communication
You probably never mean to say that they’re is worthless and that you don't like anything that they do for you, but sometimes our partners feel like this when we complain.
Let's analyze a simple example of communication with your partner.
What comes out of your mouth due to your anxiety filters:
You casually mention, "You never take me out on Saturdays anymore."
Here, you probably hope that they will get the hint and show how they care about you by arranging an outing on Saturday.
The unspoken part of your communication:
You may have a difficult time expressing your needs openly due to some neglect in your childhood and you may carry some anger related to this. Although you don't express your anger openly towards your partner, your body language and short complaint tells them more than you know. You are in some ways projecting this old anger towards your partner.
Because your parents were unable to see what you needed as a child you hope your partner will. But remember, they are not a mind reader. Your partner probably tells you this. In addition, they may have their own anxiety and defensiveness. Due to this they might feel attacked by you even though you’re just hoping they will meet the needs from childhood you felt were ignored or unrecognized.
What your partner may hear, due to your body language, as well as their upbringing and the anxiety that comes with it:
"You are worthless. You don't do anything right. You can never make me happy"
By seeing your body language and hearing your words, your partner will feel criticized. Maybe they were criticized in childhood and never felt good enough either.
So instead, you can meet your needs and help your partner feel empowered by saying something like:
"I really enjoy when we go out on Saturdays like we used to when we were dating."
Or, if you want to be more direct and take the initiative:
"Let's go out on Saturday. We had so much fun when we did it before."
Mindful Communication Starts With Self-Awareness
Do you see the difference in the communication style? You truly want to feel cherished and desired by your partner, but they feels attacked when you try to communicate this to them. You may not be aware of your anger due to the neglect in childhood, and thus you may take it out on your partner without ever intending it.
Similarly, their own anxiety and difficult past may not allow them to understand your needs. If you were able to authentically communicate your needs, your partner would feel empowered and honored because you express this to them. We all need to be needed in relationships.
When you become more aware of your feelings, needs, and your value, genuine communication becomes easier. Once you start working on this, your anxiety symptoms will also decrease.
Mindful communication and self-awareness can help you heal
It's important to note that being in a relationship can help you both heal. What matters is you are able to build enough trust where you two can be open and authentic with each other. It takes a lot of personal growth to be in a relationship. Learning how to communicate with your partner will help you both grow and feel empowered.
Dalila Jusic-LaBerge is the owner of Be Here & Now Counseling, and she helps women and teen girls heal trauma and emotional wounding, so they can enjoy life and love in healthy relationships. Dalila specializes in working with accomplished women who yearn for love but feel lost in romantic relationships.
Utilizing mindfulness based body-mind oriented therapy modality, she helps them heal, connect to their own emotions, develop intuition, and be ready to connect on a deeper emotional level. This empowers women to be authentic and in touch with who they truly are. Dalila focuses on helping her clients manage difficult feelings and emotions that come with stress, anxiety irritability, and anger issues, that are preventing them from enjoying life and happy relationships.