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The Power of Empathic Communication

empathic communication

By Peter Shepherd

The essence of relationships is communication; and yet, even between people who care deeply for each other, communication sometimes becomes blocked. We cannot put our feelings into words. Our partner speaks but we do not hear. We stare helplessly across an abyss of silence, or in frustration we hurl attacks that drive us further apart. Work on communication skills helps us to break through these sorts of impasse.

Although it is tempting to begin arguing, when one of you is angry try to mentally step back for a moment to allow the heat of the anger to pass somewhat. Some tools that might be helpful to achieve a calmer mental state include counting to ten several times, taking several deep breaths (count to four slowly as you inhale and count backwards from four to one as you exhale), walk around the block, or write your angry, uncensored thoughts in a journal.

Often people will see the anger but refuse to look at the real emotions that might be hidden beneath it. For example, when my partner hurts me with something she says, my immediate response might be to lash out at her in anger rather than looking at the hurt that is there. Each person has a choice to either strike back verbally or to discuss the feelings of hurt, misunderstanding, etc.

The effect you create

Think about what effect your words will have on your partner - would you like to receive them? Certain methods of communication will almost always cause further misunderstanding. These include: claiming that your view is fact rather than qualifying it as one's perceptions; exaggerating, generalizing, making assumptions; being negative or intolerant; being judgmental, rude, or insulting; name-calling; using "you..." statements rather than "I..." statements; and jumping to conclusions.

Communication at a time of upset is a chance to share your feelings that would otherwise be suppressed and later give rise to frustration and resentment. And by genuinely listening and understanding the other it is also a chance to show that your love is unconditional - accepting of the other as they are - and therefore truly love, rather than need or attachment or selfish manipulation.

In the enthusiasm of the initial courtship, a person who generally has a poor ability to listen may be motivated to change this in order to attract the partner, but later on returns to his or her habitual ways. So at the start of a relationship it may not be recognized that important communication skills, such as the willingness and ability to ask appropriate questions and to listen effectively, are not part of the person’s normal behavior. Eventually, there will be a price to pay...

Communication, understanding and empathy

A satisfying relationship with another person requires good communication, mutual understanding and empathy. If there is a significant drop in one of these factors, e.g. we disagree and have an argument, then an upset ensues. An upset occurs when there is a sudden departure from what is wanted or expected. Such upsets inevitably have emotional consequences: ranging from less enthusiasm, through boredom and hostility, to fear and eventually to apathy. So the effect of upsets is cumulative; a small upset may be easily forgotten but many such instances, or a particularly painful experience, will likely never be forgiven - unless the upset is resolved in the present time by new and effective two-way communication.

The sexual relationship

Misunderstandings between people are very often due to poor communication skills. When couples are unable to effectively discuss their feelings and ideas together, their relationship may eventually break down. Issues such as financial arrangements, family visits, pressures at work and contribution to home maintenance are common ‘hot spots’ in which failure to disclose feelings, or when those feelings are not genuinely listened to and understood, can lead to tension or serious upsets. Perhaps the ‘hottest’ issue is sexual response, since sex is such an integral aspect of a loving relationship.

For the body-mind's natural sexual response to function correctly, a relaxed state is necessary. If there is emotional tension between a couples, or if there is internal fear and anxiety about sexual performance, then the nervous system cannot switch into the parasympathetic mode required for sexual arousal. The solution in this situation is better and more open communication between the couple, to let each other know how they are feeling and to have a mutual acceptance of the other without blame or recrimination. After all, that is what a loving relationship is about, and sex as an expression of love is far more exciting.

Another factor is that many men have little clue about their partner's sexual response. This isn't taught in school nor in the movies. Women can become resentful and eventually give up on the matter of receiving sexual pleasure. Sex becomes a cold ritual or is abandoned completely, as the man (who doesn't understand) is simply not in proper communication with his partner on this issue.

As men get older, often the ability to respond sexually is no longer like it was in the teenage years. The man may feel guilt and anxiety about his sexual performance, and even avoid sexual relations as a consequence. To help overcome this barrier, many have turned to Viagra supplements to boost their arousal. But these are expensive and unnatural pharmaceuticals. I would recommend primarily to begin to develop more intimate communication within the couple - this in itself can be a "turn on."

Sexual arousal is only possible when one is feeling relaxed; it is destroyed by fear, anxiety or tension. When one partner is not able or is unwilling to enjoy sexual relations, it is therefore very important to communicate openly, so these negative feelings can be understood and the causes resolved. Couples need to talk honestly with each other, preferably at the first opportunity rather than later when emotions have become overwhelming. Through the lessons learnt, the relationship will only grow stronger. If this sort of communication is not possible then there really is no longer a relationship at all; but even then it is not too late to begin speaking the truth and listening, perhaps for the first time, and recover the empathy that is the spark of love.

Fortunately, you can learn many helpful skills that will allow you to communicate more effectively and also to be more productive at work and in all those situations in everyday life where better communication can make the difference.

Here some practical exercises, to do with your partner...

1. Sit facing your partner and spend some time becoming comfortable in the other’s presence. Look each other calmly in the eyes. Be comfortable just being your self, without shrinking away or putting any kind of shield or false personality in between you and the other. Accept the other as he or she is. Accept yourself as you are. With a high degree of empathy and understanding, this acceptance of yourself and another is Love.

2. With your partner, complete the following sentences, with as much honesty and frankness as you can muster. The partner should not make any comment about your reply, but simply acknowledge having heard and understood with a gentle “thank you.” Move on to the next sentence when you have uncovered an awareness that you were previously suppressing. (And then be sure to put this self-realization into action in your life!) Your partner says, “Please complete this...”

Peter Shepherd is the founder and producer of the Trans4mind personal development website, author of 'Transforming the Mind' and producer of the Mind Development courses (free to download). Read Peter's biography page and send a message.

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