Imagine you're in an airplane that is in trouble and losing altitude. Over the intercom the pilot expresses his confidence the plane will make it to the nearest airport, but requests that passengers prepare for a crash landing.
In the crisis your thoughts turn to your Intimate Other. You decide to write a note to the person with whom you have shared your world, your pain and dreams, your reality these past years. You realize you may have only a few minutes left to jot down your feelings. This may be your last communication on Earth.What would you say? What does your relationship really mean to you? What attitude or words would you like to take back? How do you wish you had expressed your love? How would you like to relate to this person in the future? What would you like forgive? Or what would you like to be forgiven for? What major problems would you like to resolve if you had the chance? With life on the line, chances are you would express the feelings most central to your relationship. No indictments. No complaints. No fault finding or pointing out flaws. No half-truths. No busyness preventing you from expressing your innermost thoughts to your Intimate Other.
What keeps you from communicating this way every day of your life? Perhaps a host of things, including:
- years of accumulated neglect of the relationship, of not showing love, resolving problems, wiping away pain, or forgiving each other.
- preoccupation with schedules, routines, and "fixing things" that has blurred relationship's importance.
- patterned behaviors that have settled in and taken over the relationship, leaving each Intimate with only a narrow range of behaviors (usually negative) to respond to the other.
- the lack of skill. In this society Intimates get more training to drive a car than they do in ways to preserve and enhance a relationship.
What strategies could help you develop clear, open, spontaneous, nurturing and to-the-point communication? Consider these possibilities.
-Keep your focus on your Intimate Other's real value. "I have invested my dreams, my hopes, my life in my wife," says one man. "She is the precious person with whom, God willing, I will play out my life and in whose arms I may some day die. There is no one on this Earth with whom I have more in common. She can't be replaced."
-Square your daily behaviors with the irreplaceable value of your Intimate Other. Remember that life is precarious and any day with the Other could be your last. So live in your todays, reconfirming your love and appreciation for that person.
-Give respect. You know how to show respect in public. Practice that skill in your private life by taking the sharp edges off your communication. Put soft, pleasant, and cheerful sounds in your voice. Be gentle.
-Affirm the worth of the Other through being psychologically present and giving gifts of time. More importantly than giving what you own, give who you are. And give your warmth and tenderness.
One author astutely captures the essence of what it means to affirm another. "The person who is at your disposal turns toward you, tilts a head, bends an ear, and lights an eye."
-Remember, there are very few things in life worth being stressed over. Crises will occur, schedules won't be met, things will get broken whether you get upset or not. So decide not to get upset over things you can't change. Keep ripples ripples. Don't make them into tidal waves.
In stressed times remember the intrinsic worth of your Intimate Other and compare it to the trivalities of the crisis. Then just say, "Oh well."
-Declare a moratorium on past errors. Decide that any "indiscretion" over a week old is off limits for recycling.
Troubles occur in relationships when daily communication exchanges are colored by a tacit collection of all else that has gone on before in the relationship. Give your Intimate Other the right to be heard in the context of the moment without being reminded of the past.
-Focus inward, not outward, when there are conflicts. Instead of establishing blame ("This is what you did wrong") assess your own responsibility in contributing to the problem ("This is what I did wrong") and apologize for your part.
Ask yourself questions like, "How could I have changed the outcome of the emotional collision?" "What are the consequences of how I responded?" "How does my typical way of responding affect my partner?"
-Stop complaining. Many Intimates fill their relating time with complaint after complaint, harping at the Other before they even know what they want. Decide what you'd like - what would help - and express it. But give your Intimate Other the room to meet your needs in ways that are comfortable to that person.
Next week: More on communicating.