By MARYMICHELLE LOTANO
Over the past few years, I have worked on learning how to communicate more effectively. Of course, when there’s no conflict, I find this to be a much easier task. My mind is clear and my words are well thought out. But when I am angry or my feelings are hurt, my ability to communicate becomes muddled and ineffective.
For many years, my argument style was based in desperately needing to be right. From this vantage point, the ego is strong and compromise is hard to find. The fear of imperfection, which equated to being unlovable, was evident as I pushed the issues and the origin of the dissension onto someone else. As long as I could remain steadfast in my blamelessness, I was lovable. This manifested in several ways, but the most prominent way it appeared was during the course of an argument. The language of the discord would often involve several “you’re” sentences. “You’re not listening, not caring, not trying. You’re being selfish, crazy, stupid.” And the list goes on and on. But this approach yielded nothing. It only escalated the conversation to decibels the neighbours could hear.
Eventually, this strategy created enough disconnection to cause the relationship to end. For a significant amount of time thereafter, I was confused as to how to implement effective, loving communication. It always puzzled me that in the midst of supposedly great love, we cannot understand each other, nor do we feel understood. Our arrival at a communication impasse takes what appears to be unconditional love for our partner and creates conditions that cause the relationship to erode.
But, recently, I had a couple of interesting revelations. I am beginning to understand that a disagreement is never about the “you’re” sentences. It is always about the “I am” emotions. Beginning any conversation with “you are” is the defence of deflecting. It allows us to put blame, judgement and responsibility on someone other than ourselves. When we take this stance, we reroute any self-reflection or ownership of our part in the discord. We are suddenly relieved of any wrong doing, both behaviourally and emotionally. And, while it might be nice to slip that halo on, it rarely promotes resolution or unity.
So, now when I am responding to a cantankerous situation, I try to remember to use “I am” sentences. I am angry, hurt, disappointed or sad. The conflict is never about what I believe the other person’s “you are” moments are. Rather, it is always about using “I am” to own my own circulating emotions. When we use “I am” ownership, the door opens to authentic, vulnerable, life-altering conversation.
Building on this epiphany, I also came to realize that loving communication is the bedrock of unconditional love. If we do not take the time to slow down and understand one another—thereby enabling both people to feel understood—we cannot survive as a couple. Instead, the negative exchanges create frustration, anger, disappointment and resentment. These emotions then become toxic, unhealthy and destructive. Once we arrive at this place of separation, the relationship begins to fail, our growth is minuscule and we often walk away.
But walking away from a committed relationship has always resulted with me chastising myself. While it might have been the healthiest choice, and occasionally the only choice, I still found it difficult to acknowledge and leave a failing relationship. Each time I walked away from an engagement that no longer showed any signs of growth, I berated myself for not loving unconditionally. A heavy burden at best, a self-limiting growth point at worst.
Realizing this, I decided I had to take the time to change my understanding of unconditional loving relationships. I knew there must be a way to build a foundation for successful unconditional love. But what was that foundation? I had no clue. Until I did.
I realized that unconditional love can only be built upon truly effective communication. And that communication is bigger than simply remembering to use “I am” statements. It encompasses the tone, mindset and ability to listen without our ego. It requires us to apply this strategy to every verbal interaction we engage in, from simple requests to lengthy discussions. The foundation of unconditional love can only be built by listening and speaking with respect, empathy, compassion and openness.
I now understand that loving unconditionally cannot happen without unconditional loving communication. Without making an effort to have ongoing, vulnerable and honest discussions, nothing can take root. When we take the time to build this type of authentic, self-aware dialogue, we create understanding, promote feeling understood and foster connection. Our communication then prepares the soil that unconditional love thrives in.
Your words are the seeds of loving resolution. What will you plant today?
Author of Circles of the Soul, Marymichelle Lotano has explored the areas of personal growth, meditation and art. Ms. Lotano is currently a full time writer and mother, residing in Carlsbad, California. Visit: circlesofthesoul.net.