Thank you for joining me in Part 3 of the Space Between Series. Here, we will explore Safe Conversation.
Last week I suggested that the fastest way forward for any couple is to pay attention to the Space Between. It is a real energy field and you can tell can’t you, when there is tension? It is either tension-free, or it is not. The key is to keep any negativity out of the Space Between. Although, if the negativity is unconscious, how do you let your partner know something they did is negative without them getting their back up even more?
I suggested a code word or action that alerts your partner to something negative. Pick one you have both agreed on beforehand. Then, you want to go about repairing the rupture as soon as possible so whatever happened doesn’t happen again.
Repairing the Rupture
To repair the rupture, you need to be able to communicate with your partner, about anything. You need to communicate in a way that is safe, as safety is another key factor in a conscious relationship. My brain stem is constantly on guard for any sign of danger and if it senses danger it will defend itself. There is a 500 million-year history here and you are not going to change it. You can start to see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
The Safe Conversation Process in The Space Between
The Safe Conversation process allows a couple to talk to each other in a safe way if a negative shows up in the Space Between. It is a very structured process but the structure ensures the safety and takes issues out of the power struggle – which tends to be, I am right and you are wrong – and just makes sure partners hear each other.
3 Pieces to the Safe Conversation Process
There are three pieces to the Safe Conversation process – mirroring, validation and empathy.
The Mirroring Piece
Mirroring is a reflective process that assures my partner that I have heard her perception and experience of the situation. Before I can respond, I need to mirror back what I have heard, to her satisfaction. It is a flat mirror, with no additions, no subtractions – this is what I heard you say. Did I get it?
Yesterday I was at a Tim Horton’s drive-thru. I ordered a small black coffee for me and a medium decaf with milk for my wife. Immediately, the person inside repeated back to me: Was that a small black and a medium decaf with milk? A perfect mirror! The employees have been taught to repeat back to the customer what they have heard. This is in order to cut down on wastage from mistakes because they cannot see the person giving the order, and there might be static in the system.
But isn’t there static sometimes in our communication with our partner? We might be tired, upset, or focused on something else. The mirroring process makes sure we hear our partner accurately. If Tim Hortons employees can use it, surely we can use it, especially when there is a charge on an issue. It is a great tool to have in one’s relational toolbox.
The Validation Piece
Validation simply means that you recognize and accept that the other person has also had an experience and that his or her point of view. While it may be different from yours, has equal validity. “It makes sense that is what you would say or that is how you see it!” Remember your partner is not you. Go back to the Tim Hortons example. If I ask for a small black coffee, the person on the inside doesn’t say, “Are you crazy? Don’t you want a large double?” No, he or she just repeats back the order to make sure they heard it correctly. There is no judgment!
The Empathy Piece
Empathy is the communication with another person that you hear and understand his or her feelings and that they make sense. “Given that (what your partner has just told you about) I can imagine you might be feeling (use a word or two to describe what they might be feeling). Then check it out: “Is that what you’re feeling?” I might say, “You seem angry”, but my partner might reply, “No, I wasn’t really angry, but I was sad, or disappointed or hurt”.
And then it is my partner’s turn. It is a dialogue so I need to mirror and validate and empathize with my partner. And back and forth it goes. Working closely with couples for over three decades has shown that if I can keep couples in the Safe Conversation process, they will sort things out.
What I like about it also, is that it is not like a cookie cutter. What might work for one couple might not work for my wife and me, but if we keep talking we will figure out what will work for us!
Safe Conversation: Master this Skill
The Safe Conversation Process is an essential skill you must master if you want a great relationship. It is learning how to talk with your partner in a safe way. Talking is the main way you communicate with your partner and there will always be stuff to talk about; the key is to stop your old brain, your reptilian brain from reacting. If your old brain senses danger it will react using the fight, flight, or freeze responses. In a conscious relationship, you need to respond, not react. The structure of the Safe Conversation process ensures safety. It is a way of talking without criticizing; listening without judging; and connecting through your differences.
The Space Between Part 4, next week.