Communicating Beyond the Barriers: A partner’s tale of repair and recovery

Author :- Wellcelium May 3, 2021, 3:18 p.m.
Communicating Beyond the Barriers: A partner’s tale of repair and recovery

By Cat Witherspoon

My name is Cat, and I’m the Social Media Manager at Wellcelium. As much as I love storytelling, social media, and digital marketing, I’m here because this role aligns with my personal and professional mission. My happy place is with my pup Sheba and husband or when engaging in dialogue with people I love or just met while enjoying wine, soft music, and food. When I’m not working or traveling, I am actively doing the work to become an effective communicator to experience deeper relationships and more embodied wellness.

When I first met my now-husband, I thought we had something special because we got along so well.

We were lovers, friends, and two completely different people who seemed to have mastered the art of relating to and communicating with each other.

Sadly, that didn’t last long. 

We’ve been married now for almost two years. When you compare the two years we dated to the time we’ve been married [and roomies] it is night and day.

We soon learned our relationship was not an anomaly. We weren’t unique after all. Our love and ability to understand and communicate with each other had evolved into a couple who boarded their individual ships that had sailed off to a place neither of us could recognize. The once harmonious partnership was now a fractured and discordant one.

I remember once, during a heated argument, we just looked at each other. 

Standing still…

Staring deeply and sheepishly into each other’s eyes and said, almost in unison —

“How did we get here…”

“How did WE become THAT couple…”

It was that moment when we decided we needed to find a way, on this side of our relationship and commitment, to harbor and foster healthy skills to be a stronger couple. To do this, we realized communication is key in a relationship, in our relationship, as it opens the door to sustainable, durable love.

Below are two of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the short time I’ve been married.

Year 1: Wave the white flag and be honest with yourself and your partner

Communication barriers creep into a relationship like a thief in the night — but this thief is the home invasion kind, that comes in to steal your peace and replace it with steel walls around that soft spot in your heart for your partner. Before you even have a chance to realize these barriers exist, you and your partner have already invited doubt, fear, suspicion, blame, shame and defensiveness into your conversations.

“Communication to a relationship is like oxygen to life. Without it, it dies!”

-Tony Gaskins, Motivational Speaker and Life and Relationship Coach

These barriers are hard to identify and recover from but it is possible if you are completely honest with yourself and your partner. The key is that you have to be extremely vulnerable to recognize and identify how to break down communication barriers in a relationship that was once a healthy one but is now completely toxic.

Counseling helps but even with a counselor’s help you have to be transparent. You have to empathize with your partner. You have to see and feel how they are hurting and where they are and be willing to meet them there, as humbly as you know how. If you have empathy, then with or without the help of a therapist you’re ahead of the game. Empathy allows you to lovingly respect how your partner receives and processes information, understand who they are and how their experiences shaped the person you have grown to love, the way they love and want to be loved.

Can you imagine if your partner’s communications style was that of an Android and you were an iPhone? If you think about it that way, it would help you see the beauty in your different styles of communication and how you operate.

Year 2: Watch your mouth or be prepared to wash your mouth

If you’ve ever had to wash your mouth with soap, you know it’s not a good experience. That’s how it feels when you have to apologize to your partner after you said something that you thought was relevant to the conversation (or argument) but came out totally wrong, thus warranting an apology.

Let me be clear, apologizing to your partner is a good thing and shows that you are working towards strengthening your communication and relationship with your partner. However, if we are keeping it real — having to swallow your pride and apologize is low-key painful. It’s like having to wash your mouth with soap. It just isn’t something you want to do or ever do again. But if you think about an apology as washing your mouth with soap as a way to cleanse your tongue from the hurtful thing you said and remind you to avoid the same verbal mistake it can help you be intentional in conversations with someone you care about. To prevent having to endure the bitterness of an apology, it’s best to be kind and mindful of your words.

I use this analogy with soap because, in my mind, the soap has two meanings. The same way ingesting soap is awful, imagine how it feels when soap gets into your eyes. It burns, blurs your vision, and causes a bit of hysteria because you’re not expecting to care for your eyes in complete or partial darkness and discomfort. That’s what happens to your partner when we aren’t kind with our words. In relationships, when we say things out of anger or (intentionally or unintentionally) hurt our partner’s feelings, their vision of us becomes blurred. Their perception of us takes a hit when our words sting, because they can’t believe that something so unloving and unkind could come from someone they love.

Since communication is the most important thing in a relationship, it’s vital to preserve it at all costs.

If we are mindful of the burn of soap in the eyes of our partners, we would never risk saying something that would cause us to take a shot of detergent. If we dial back our anger and need to retaliate, we can coast beyond this contentious moment to experience the zest we all desire in relationships.

Questions to ask yourself

  • How does my partner receive and process information?
  • Who in the relationship is a feeler, and who is a thinker?
  • Ask your partner if you are a safe space for them emotionally? If not, ask them what you need to do to be a safe place for them and vice versa.
  • Ask yourself if you’re vulnerable with your partner? If not, set up a time to be vulnerable with your partner.

Suggested practice

The Trust Session

I can’t remember who introduced this to us but this trust exercise has deepened and strengthened our love, respect and understanding of each other. Here’s how it works: if there are issues in your relationship that you can’t get past, have one of you take the lead. The person chosen to lead the conversation will come up with a list of questions to ask the other. Please make sure you’re in a quiet, safe space (we do this naked) to ensure no distractions or interruptions.

The person leading the conversation will ask the questions one at a time and cannot respond until the partner answering the questions says they can, but no later than 48 hours. This allows one partner to share their feelings without being interrupted, to be seen and heard. When the person who asked the questions can respond, their responses are to be uninterrupted. The rules can change but should be agreed upon before the session begins.

Recommended resource

4 Mindful Listening Principles to Better Navigate Conflict
bGillian Florence Sanger, The Gottman Institute

Originally published on wellcelium.org

Cover photo by Pexels