A good relationship with a romantic partner is one of the most important nutrients of happiness.
We evolved to profoundly enjoy a deep emotional and physical relationship with somebody special.
But many primary relationships are neither good nor deep and that diminishes the primal joy we can get from them.
There are many reasons why romances do not work very well and this post focuses on one of them: a failure to communicate emotionally.
Our primary relationship has the potential to be our most emotionally intimate. Sex is obviously a major factor in that.
So is the consistency of contact that most romantic relationships provide. We see how our partner reacts in diverse situations. We learn their likes and dislikes.
Constancy provides us with a depth of knowledge that facilitates deep bonds.
Deep bonds require skills
But to go really deep with a lover we need to know how to talk with them. Verbal communication lubricates emotional penetration.
But this takes skill, and many people don’t have it. Our culture does not educate us much in the art of talking deep. We don’t learn it at school or on the job.
I knew nothing about competent communication until well into my thirties. Then I met people, mostly therapists, who “talked different” and some of their communication skills rubbed off on me.
I noticed right away that this improved my romantic relationships. I then started taking workshops specifically designed to enhance intimate communication.
I now have a couple decades of practising communication skills, and although I still have lots to learn, I now know that three techniques are key.
The first is to disclose your emotions. Research shows that revealing feelings builds emotional bonds more than sharing thoughts.
What you feel is highly personal and when you put those feelings into words, you open up an intimate partner to this vulnerable part of yourself. That allows your partner to see you as you really are. And when you do that, they are more inclined to do the same.
Knowing your feelings
To disclose your emotions you need to know what they are, and that is the second intimate skill.
Many of us are out of touch with our feelings. We live in a culture that discourages looking into your inner world; it gives much more attention to the external you: how pretty or handsome you look, or the type of clothes you wear.
But through practice, like doing the exercise I propose in this post, you can become proficient in identifying and verbalizing the ups and downs of your feelings.
The third skill of intimacy is to really listen to what your partner is saying. Most of us are more interested in telling our side of the story than listening to anyone else’s. I can think of so many times where I failed to give attention to what my partner was saying. I was more focused on my own thoughts and statements.
You can learn partner communication skills via a wonderful joyshift called the bonding set. It takes just five minutes.
The bonding set
Today you can lead the session, tomorrow your partner can. The joyshift begins with you taking a moment to think of any emotionally significant event today or in the last few days. You then describe the events and the feelings it provoked to your partner. The focus is on the feelings rather than the details of the event itself. Keep your statement to one minute max.
Next, your partner will repeat to you what they heard, again emphasizing the emotional content of your talk. When they finish, you add anything they missed, and they repeat that.
Then you do more disclosure/playback cycles until the time is up. And then you thank your partner for the attention given you.
Tomorrow your partner will play your role.
When you start this joyshift it is best to avoid emotionally challenging events, especially involving your partner. You need practice with less charged events. Once you get good at the disclosure/playback cycle you can use it more difficult issues.
The playback process is a key part of the session. It forces you to really listen to your partner and remember what they are saying. Limiting the disclosure to a minute helps you to playback, but with experience you will be able to remember longer disclosures.
The person doing the playback does not agree or disagree with the disclosures. They are just playing them back.
This gives the disclosing person the satisfying sense that they are being heard. So much difficulty in communication comes from both partners never feeling that.
But the understanding that your words really landed turns what could be a negative interaction into a positive one, and that really facilitates mutual understanding.
As this practice became a regular feature of my relationship with my partner Ravit, I noticed that it enhanced my communication more generally. The skills I learned in the joyshift I could apply outside the session, with my family, friends and colleagues.
But most of all the joyshift has helped me and Ravit enjoy the most delicious emotional intimacy. If it worked for us it could work for you too.