Don’t complain about feelings, make requests for actions
Relationships are about love, sex, fun, communication, emergence, transformation. Whether you travel together for a day or a lifetime, every journey is step by step from this here and now … to this here and now. Communication works best when it is rooted step by step in the here and now. Sometimes the heart invites us to flow with deep currents; still, there is no other moment than now. This post is about keeping communication in the here and now. It is, if you like, a form of relationship meditation or communication mindfulness.
It’s simple and it is useful and it is basic to good communication. The key is grammatically-positive communication. That means that you ask for what you want instead of complaining about what you don’t want.
Far too often, we tell the other person either what we don’t want or don’t like (“I’m not happy about our sex life”, “You spend too much”), or we ask for vague things like. “I want to feel you want me”, “I want you to respect me.” Mostly this is combined with hurt emotions imported from our own past. Such communication has no root in here-and-now physical life. At best it goes round in circles. At worst it degenerates into a toxic cycle that can easily sink even a relationship full of love and affection.
This isn’t by any means all there is to intimate communication. But grammatically negative communication is like potholes on a runway, it stops love from flying.
If you don’t know where you are going, you won’t get there
Every human interaction has a desired outcome, a hoped-for result that you want to take away at the end of the conversation. And you have a hoped-for result you want the other person to take away at the end. For each specific conversation, ask yourself, “What do I want from this conversation here and now? What result, what outcome, now or in the immediate future?”
It can feel a bit mechanical to think in that way of a loving touch or a spontaneous gesture, and I certainly don’t mean to reduce life to an economic exchange of gives and gets. But it is a reality that every communication has an intended outcome, what you want as a result. It’s highly useful to be clear about what this is. When you go to a railway station, you ask for a ticket to some particular place. Unless you know your outcome, conversation is like just asking for “a ticket, please.” Yes, but where to?
Ask for the result you want, don’t not-ask for the not-result you don’t want
Positive grammar is life changing! Out of every personal development technique on the planet, positive grammar brings the most return from the least effort. Tell the other person what you do want, not what you don’t want.
Not “stop being lazy” or “You never take the rubbish out!” but “I’ve taken the rubbish out for the last month, please will you take it out for the next month?”
Detailed and specific communication – storyboard your requests
It’s good to be detailed and specific. Think of storyboarding a film: a concrete specific picture so the other person knows what you are requesting them to do or say. You want a request so clear and simple the other person can say Yes or No, and if Yes, carry out the request without first needing to be in a particular mood. Sometimes this is to ask if they agree to a sentence like “I [the other person] understand that it matters to you [ie you] that the house is tidy.”
Ask for actions or words, not feelings
Love is about feelings. Still, you can’t request someone to “feel respectful towards me.” If the person acted respectfully, what would that look like? What sentence would you hear that indicated respect? -eg “In future I’ll ask before I borrow your bike.” You can’t request someone to “feel more loving”, but you can say “Please, when you get home, let’s have a hug before you start to cook.”
First steps are here-and-now steps
It is a big and common and BAD mistake, to ask for things that are too large or too far away and so are not here and now. “I’d like us to make love every weekend” is good in terms of being specific. Yet that might be a goal you can reach in one step from where you stand, or, it might not. Maybe you merely have bad habits of how you spend Sunday morning, and it’s easy to click out of those and into a lovemaking habit. Or maybe not. Perhaps there’s a lot of emotional clearing conversation needed. Or maybe one person has hurt around sex and needs to take things quite slowly. The first step might be that the other person agrees “Yes, I would like to have sex more often.” Or before that an even earlier step might be that the other agrees “I appreciate that our sex life matters to you and I am willing to talk about it.” The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step; what is that step?
There is a magic in looking for the first step, whether as an action or a sentence you invite the other to agree with. The firstness guarantees that the step is in the present, and it invokes the magic of the present moment. you may well need to protect the first steps from your impatience or mistrust.
- What do I want from this conversation? What does that look like, very concretely and specifically, in actions or words?
- What would be the FIRST, the very FIRST, words or action from the other person that would be a FIRST sign my request is being met?
- Then the next, very, very immediate next, step?
After all, if you don’t know what you want, what are you fighting about?
The first step may already be happening!
Be alert. Sometimes the other person is already doing the first step. Say thank you, be appreciative, say that it matter to you and you’d love it to happen more. And it will; attention is nourishment.
Small beginnings – flowers grow from seeds
I repeat, it is important to request from each other first steps, possible now-or-soon. First steps may be small. Let’s imagine you feel unloved, unvalued and disrespected. Then obviously to ask the other person to give you a hug when they get home and take the rubbish out, is only asking tiny things.
However, flowers grow from seeds. If there is any path to being loved, valued and respected by your partner, then the first steps on that path are some kind of gramatically-positive incremental steps. If you journey on that path, then you have to take those steps. They are the stepping-stones that life is offering you. Yes of course, your longing and vision of the future of the relationship, in a year or in a week, is far larger. You have to make a bridge to that future.
Or of course, you can decide the journey is impossible or too long, and choose not to journey on this path with this partner. How to know if a relationship is past help, is a story for another day. But if your communication in the past has been full of vague, far-off, too-big grammatically negative complaints, then it makes sense to at least try clear, positive requests. This kind of communication has the major by-product that it cuts a lot of un-needed hurt emotion out of the communication.
Some grammatic negatives are OK
Some things we naturally express in grammatical negatives, for example “I’m not going to be a doormat any more.” That’s absolutely valid as an inner understanding. And, what is the first, now-or-soon, action step from you or the other person that shows you are not being a doormat?
This brings YOU into the present
If this idea – small, concrete, present-time steps, one by one – is new to you, then it is likely to take a bit of work to put it into action. You already know what you want – you want respect! you want to be valued! you want the relationship to be rewarding! you want more time together and more sex!! you want the affair NOT TO HAVE HAPPENED!!! Typically there is a lot of hurt emotion behind that, and typically a lot of that emotion is imported from your past.
When you communicate like this, you automatically bring yourself into the present. When you ask yourself what is the first, concrete step you want to request, that first concrete step is naturally in the present or very near future. Yes, these steps may be initially be tiny compared to your vision and longing from the relationship. But they are real, possible, actual steps in the present moment. Small real seeds that engage the present moment, grow. And who can say how big a seed will become?