I’ve been spending a lot of time lately honing conscious relationship and communication practices with my wonderful girlfriend.
Being on a path of growth and expansion usually means a lot of emotionally charged conversations. We’ve been doing tons of work communicating on all sorts of triggering topics, like navigating jealousy and physical and energetic boundaries, along with our fears, projections, and expectations of each other.
It’s taken a lot of work to clear through it all, getting to our core truths and intentions. The reward is having a more solid foundation on which to build our plans and future.
These are some helpful tools, practices, and principles we’ve picked up along the way:
1) Conscious Listening without Interruption
A nonviolent communication coach taught me this. One partner asks the other: “What is alive in you now in the space between us?” Then the other partner has the floor to share everything going on, starting with physical sensations in their body, to the emotions in their hearts, to thoughts in their minds, all with an emphasis on NVC.
We express what we are feeling and needing without experiencing blame or judgment. The other simply listens, open-hearted and present, without thinking about responding or correcting a statement. Then, after everything’s been said, they switch and the other has the floor.
Also, be careful to stay on topic. Things gets messy when feelings and arguments arise. Everything and the kitchen sink gets thrown in. One or both partners has to keep the discussion focused on the present issue, or at least be able to separate out other topics for later.
This is extremely useful for couples that tend to cut each other off or change topics, which results in both sides not feeling heard. Clear communication is the end goal, and listening consciously helps achieve this goal.
2) Eliminate “Fair” from your Relationship Vocabulary
Fairness is the fastest way to resentment, revenge, and disconnection.
What matters is not superficial equality, such as how many times you took out the trash, how much you paid for such-and-such, or how many other partners you’ve been with. What matters is the feeling underneath.
What’s more important to you? Do you want to be “fair?” Or do you want both partners to feel good? Unless you’re devoid of emotion and a purely unrational being (which few of us are), feeling good, clear, truthful, and operating from integrity are what matter if you want to emotionally connect.
3) Transform Punitive Anger into Passion to Connect
This is a huge one for me personally. When I get triggered, I yell. The only goal when I get lost in my anger is to make the other suffer for the pain they caused me. This is clearly horrendous for relationships.
In another workshop, I learned that anger is not a “bad” emotion. It’s simply energy, and if used consciously, can be very positive. To consciously use anger, harness the energy of anger but keep the heart open. Punitive, vengeful anger happens when the heart is closed. However, anger with heart gives someone the passion to connect!
4) Separate Reality from Projections
Feelings are always valid. People should never be made to feel ashamed or guilty for their feelings, whatever they are. Suppressed emotions manifest unconsciously in many insidious ways, including lots of self-sabotaging and relationship-sabotaging behaviors
That said, it’s important for both partners to acknowledge that often a large part of their feelings are not based on present reality, and instead are projections from past experiences. There may indeed be a part that is reality, but likely there’s a significant part that’s based on previous fears or past relationships that left a lot of negative emotions.
Ideally, partners will understand not to take projections personally, and then help each other to focus on reality instead. Once the source of the projection is clear, there is nothing to do but change the pattern. Simply noticing and watching one’s projections come up will bring awareness to what is reality, and ultimately help each other make conscious choices.
5) Own Our Motivations for Everything
We often try to show only the best side of ourselves. We spend all this time talking about how good we are and denying we have a shadow side, but this only results in unconscious manifestations of our fears, which are potentially self-sabotaging. An example is if my partner accuses me of only wanting our relationship to be about sex. I can’t deny that sex is an important biological and emotional motivation. To try and hide that hides my shadow side.
On the other hand, to only recognize the shadow is also denying your truth. Another truthful part of me is my golden side. In the previous example, my golden side knows that having sex often brings us closer and reinforces our self-confidence.
The best way to fully acknowledge both our shadow and golden motivations is to consciously check in. “How much of me is acting out of shadow? Am I just horny? How much of me is wanting to connect and make love?” There’s nothing wrong with acting out of shadow motivations, as long as you aren’t fooling yourself or someone else.
Owning this darker side may seem scary, but someone who sees their shadow is much more trustworthy than someone who denies it. It’s when we try to disguise our shadow that things start to feel manipulative and we might act out in ways no one expected.
6) Dedication to Truth
Communication isn’t about winning or losing, or protecting or destroying egos, it’s about being free from that struggle—standing simply in your integrity.
This was a significant shift for me. Rather than focusing on an expected outcome and trying to manipulate my way there, I realized the only goal when approaching difficult conversations is to get to the truth for everyone involved.
Striving to get to the truth, rather than reaching for expected outcomes, has two positive results. First, it removes any attachment to a particular outcome, which directly results in suffering since you can’t completely control reality. Second, this makes us a team, working together to discover the truth, which helps us grow, even if it eventually means growing apart.
Truth may feel like an abstract concept, but it seems to me truth usually ends up as a simple, one-line sentence, like “I’m afraid I’m not good enough for you,” or “I’m afraid to ask for help.” The moment you discover, acknowledge, and communicate your truth, it feels both painful and beautifully liberating. You will feel it in your body—the moments leading up to it will often be full of physical tension and struggle. The moment you say your one-line truth, all that struggle will cease and there will be a cathartic release of energy through your body. When you are in your truth, there is nothing left to hide, no more ego to protect. Nothing can hurt you and you are finally free to live from integrity.
7) Let the Body Talk
Expressing myself through my body has been incredibly powerful for me. Sometimes, talking can be a waste of energy, a minefield of triggers, projections, and ego busters, so you just don’t have the capability to get to the truth. In these cases, one of the most powerful things is to stop talking and move all that emotion through the body, rather than trying to get through more false garbage.
There’s tons of body-based healing modalities for moving and releasing these energies. Simple, accessible practices for you and your partner could be dancing, massage, orgasmic meditation, sex, role playing, domination and submission, or anything that gets the body to release the tension and move energy. This allows emotions to release and process. Crying, going for a walk, or screaming into a pillow are all good ways to express yourself physically.
I know my relationship communication tools will continue to evolve. Have you had any experience with these, or do you have even more suggestions?
May these be of benefit.
Author: Jay Su
Apprentice Editor: Lindsey Slanker; Editor: Nicole Cameron