I started to write the blog I intended to write this month about “good” communication, and then stopped. As the list of “bad” communication techniques suggests, communicating well takes focus and effort, often requiring that we override our automatic tendencies to “get” others to either see things our way or at least mend their misunderstanding or “shortsightedness.” Or we might try to “help” or “fix” them. It isn’t easy to ignore these urges, and even seasoned therapists can fall short.
But even more than effort, “good” communication requires motivation. It really is a whole lot easier to defend ourselves or blame someone, so why bother making all the effort required if deep down inside we know it’s someone else’s fault and we feel we shouldn’t have to change?
So…first things first. Ask yourself what you want regarding your relationship.
There are three basic answers:
1) Remain in the relationship the way it is, feeling free to complain.
2) Work to change the relationship.
(Note: When I spoke to Tim about this recently, he suggested a 4th option: Remain in the relationship the way it is, but with JOY.)
Only you can assess the costs and benefits of these choices.
That said, let’s consider some of the pros and cons of each choice. One potential advantage for Option #1 (keeping things the way they are) is that it requires the least effort. You just keep doing whatever you’re doing. If this means that you blame your partner for all the problems in your relationship, you get to gossip and complain, telling other people how awful he or she is and how unfair it is that you have to put up with so much. You might feel like a helpless victim, but you might also get a lot of sympathy, or even go for sainthood or martyrdom. Or you could shame or blame yourself. Here you might feel like a hopeless loser, but at least you would protect yourself from the risk of trying and failing.
Option #2 (work to change the relationship) requires a high level of effort, which might seem like a distinct disadvantage. It also requires taking full responsibility for the problems in your relationship, which could feel totally unfair. Of course, your partner would also have to take responsibility for his or her contribution to the problem, but you wouldn’t be in charge of that choice. This means understanding that the ONLY one you can change is yourself, whether your behavior, feelings, or attitude. And again, these changes take EFFORT. But on the positive side, you might end up with a relationship where both you and your partner thrive.
Option #3 (leave) has the distinct advantage of not requiring you to make any changes in your own behavior. You get to blame your partner for everything, if you want, and walk away. Of course, it could force you to make many other changes, costly to you and your family, both emotionally and financially, and some of these might be too frightening to risk. On the other hand, there are times when safety is an issue, and it would be far riskier to stay.
Option #4 (keep it the way it is, but remain with joy), like Option #2, requires a lot of effort. This might include the work of acceptance, compassion, and perhaps forgiveness, which can be a tall order. And as you focus on your own attitudes, feelings and behavior, you may actually find that the relationship changes for the better. The downside is that you can’t control whether or not your partner will choose the same option, and that might feel either unfair or perhaps even unwise.
In the end, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. We each have to weigh the pros and cons of the possible choices, and decide what we are ready and willing to do, given our particular circumstances. If we consciously choose either Option #2 or Option #4, we might want to give “Good” communication a try…but that’s for next time.
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