Couples often complain about having a communication problem. But if we look more deeply, there are two fundamental qualities that are essential for building a healthy, intimate relationship. When recognized and practiced, we become better positioned to create more fulfilling connections.
Our capacity to communicate rests on our ability to be aware of what we’re feeling inside. It takes a hefty dose of mindfulness to notice what we’re actually experiencing.
Turning attention inside, we might recognize that we’re feeling sad, afraid, or lonely. Or, we might notice that shame got triggered when someone seemed to be critical or upset with us. We might feel anger or outrage in response to injustice or abuse.
The challenge of skillful communication is that it requires us to attend to our inner world of feelings and desires. Our default mode may be to protect ourselves by going into our head to find clever ways to attack and judge a person rather than simply notice how we’re affected by them—and then communicate that.
We have little control over external events. We have zero control over fixing or changing another person. But we have some control over how we relate to our own experience and respond to events. We can uncover our genuine feelings and wants and communicate these in a self-revealing way, such as by using Marshall Rosenberg’s non-violent communication approach.
Oftentimes we respond to unpleasant interactions by attacking a person—whether out loud or silently in our minds. We may communicate our judgments and blame and believe that we’re a good communicator: “I think you’re self-centered and clueless!”
Spouting our judgments and evaluations of others is something we all do sometimes, but it’s sloppy communication. It takes mindfulness to pause and go inside to get a handle on our true feelings rather than impulsively act out or vent our emotions in a destructive way. We need to expand our tolerance for discomfort to notice what we’re really feeling.
Our deeper authentic experience is often infused with an uncomfortable vulnerability. When we’re confronted with a real or imagined insult or attack, it may unnerve us, rattling a tender place inside. Attacking and blaming are common defenses designed to protect our vulnerable heart.
Allowing ourselves to notice our more tender feelings requires a quality of being that we also need to cultivate if we want to be an effective communicator. It takes a hefty dose of courage to tap into the more tender feelings dancing through us.
We may recognize the value of cultivating mindfulness and noticing our authentic experience. But without courage, we’re likely to revert to our usual defenses, which protect us from shame and pain.
Courage means being present to our experience as it is, rather than how we’d like it to be. Courage comes from the word “heart.” The French word for heart is “coeur.” The renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung commented that
“Your vision will become clear when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside awakens.”
We live courageously as we live with more heart and less fear.
Peering into our heart and being mindful of what we’re actually experiencing takes tremendous inner strength. Oftentimes what we see isn’t pretty. Perhaps something in us is scared or hurting. Being strong often means allowing ourselves to be weak, or what we might judge as weakness. Courageous mindfulness means letting ourselves experience whatever we happen to be experiencing in the moment, whether pleasant or unpleasant. This is nothing less than the art of loving ourselves.
No longer resisting our experience—not being ashamed or afraid of it—we can live more mindfully and boldly. Rather than be reactive, we can pause, breathe, and notice what we’re feeling in the moment. We can honor ourselves by tapping into our courage to meet our experience just as it is, without avoiding or sugarcoating it.
Finding the courage to reveal our experience rather than blame or criticize, we invite people toward us. Intimacy means seeing into each other’s inner world. We create a climate for connection as we let people see us—inviting them into our inner life. As we honor our experience just as it is and share it with people with whom we trust, we come out of hiding and move toward greater happiness.
© John Amodeo
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John Amodeo, Ph.D., MFT is author of the award-winning book, Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships. His other books include The Authentic Heart and . He has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for over 35 years in the San Francisco Bay area and has lectured and conducted workshops internationally.
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