Communicating A Deeper Connection
Relationships First is a non-profit that helps people learn to talk without criticism, listen without judgment and connect beyond difference. It is the brainchild of Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt, the authors of Getting the Love You Want, Making Marriage Simple and their most recent book, The Space Between. They have been my mentors for the past 27 years and now you can watch and learn from them for free on their website RelationshipsFirst.org. They have put together a six hour relationship workshop entitled Safe Conversations, the whole of which is now on line.
From their workshop, there are two main points I would like to call your attention to. The first is the importance of safety in a relationship and the second is the necessity of taking care of what they call “the space between.” In any relationship there are the two people involved, but there is also a third entity. The space between those two people.
Safety in Communication
Safety has always been a priority of mine. The first chapter of my upcoming book Dream Relationship – How to Make Use of Available Tools For Your Happily-Ever-After is entitled “Safety.” If I have learned anything in the past 27 years working with couples, it is the importance of safety. When asked the question “What do people really want in a relationship?” Harville and Helen, over their 40 years of experience, have been able to boil it down to three things: people want to be safe, they want to be able to just hang out and feel connected, and they want to feel fully alive, vibrant and joyful. These three things are possible, but couples need to learn to communicate in a safe manner.
The second point is the importance of the space between. The space between two people is not just empty air. We all know if tension exists between a couple, you can almost “cut it with a knife.” But when things are going well, that space is filled with joy, fun, and aliveness.
Keeping Communication Positive
One of the essential skills to create a great relationship is to remove all negativity – no blame, shame, or criticism. This is the third of four important skills I outline in my book. The goal is to create a zero negativity zone in the space between. I tell my couples there is enough negativity all around us, you don’t want any between you. Keep the space between you sacred space.
The caveat here is that it is the person on the receiving end who determines if something is negative or not. I might say “I was just kidding.” But if my partner experiences what I said or did as a negative then I need to change my behaviour.
Repairing The Negativity
In the workshop they asked partners to sign a Zero Negativity pledge for the next 30 days. The 30 days being the on ramp for the rest of their lives. If one partner experiences something as negative there needs to be a signal to alert the other a boundary has been crossed: ouch, whoops, that hurt, or whatever works for them. That needs to be followed by a repair, a re-connection process. It could be as simple as an apology, a hug, a bouquet of flowers, or a reworking of what just happened. Each couple will determine what they feel they need to do in order to re-connect.
As any negativity is removed, there is a vacuum of sorts created. Skill #4 in my book is to amplify the positives. This refers to affirming each other: you did a great job, thanks for that, I really appreciate what you did, etc. Love is more than just a feeling. Ultimately, it is how we treat each other. Negativity is emotional abuse. If you love someone, you can’t be negative. It is as simple as that.
I would encourage all of you to take a look at Relationships First. The workshop is available on line. You don’t have to watch the entire six hours in one sitting, but over time you might watch shorter segments. Then, begin the commitment to making your relationship a zero negativity zone.