A common complaint of individuals in couple therapy regards the way they are being spoken to by the mate. They often are hard pressed to fully articulate their dissatisfaction except to say, “I don’t like how you speak to me.” This statement is often poorly understood by the listener and is perceived as an unfair attack. How can distressed partners state their discontent while safeguarding their mate’s dignity?
It is understandable that when anyone perceives criticism, discounting tone, accusations or cynical words, he/she may feel hurt, threatened, defensive and provoked to defend himself to restore a respectful loving connection. The couple connection is temporarily severed and each partner armors oneself for self-preservation rather than for a collaborative verbal exchange.
What we say is always important but how we say it may be received as critical, hostile, disrespectful or accusatory of our mate. To successfully communicate our intent through words is both an art and a science, and as such, it can be improved and mastered to achieve an intellectual connection and preserve our emotional bond with the listener.
Effective message delivery is essential in all human interactions but is most crucial in our intimate relationships within the family.
A French expression states, “Il n’est pas le tone que faire de la musique.” – “It is not the tone that matters but the music that is created.” A failed verbal exchange may offend the listener and dampen the pair’s connectedness.
In “Social Intelligence”, Dr. Daniel Goleman, the director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago writes, “The social brain is the sum of the neural mechanisms that orchestrate our interactions as well as our thoughts and feelings about people and our relationships… When someone dumps their toxic feelings on us- explodes in anger or threats, shows disgust or contempt- he activates in us circuity for those very same distressing emotions.” This explains the physiological resonance effect of partners who when becoming irate with their mate activate a parallel reaction that stresses both of them.
Additionally, Dr. Goleman states, “The amygdala automatically scans everyone we encounter for whether they are to be trusted: Is it safe to approach this guy? Is he dangerous? Can I count on him or not?” He adds, “These continual amygdala- driven appraisals go on outside of our awareness.”
Since the automatic protective mechanisms operate outside our full awareness, it is hard for us to manage them appropriately. When we use words based on our instinctual self-protective mechanisms, we fail to keep in mind that it is our beloved whom we inappropriately regard as a threat.
- Extreme emotions about your mate’s words/actions are programmed by your protective brain hormones, which cannot identify the source of this threat as your beloved.
- Use words of kindness towards your mate even when you feel unsafe or threatened.
- Say, “I am surprised that a kind/caring person like you, who is “my other half” would be suspecting, attacking or discrediting me.”