Welcome to the second module! This one focuses on the single most important part of your relationships – communication. Module 2 is a great example of a module that’s widely applicable to every relationship in your life, not just you and your partner’s. So take plenty of time and start with those sticky notes I mentioned. The more you engage with the material, the more you’ll notice that incredible improvement you’re here for.
So, let’s start with positive and negative communication.
Module 2 has great bullet point lists for each to help you understand the difference between communicating positively versus negatively. Let’s talk about two of my favorites: one, stick to facts and reason, and two, don’t plan your responses ahead of time. See, I’d been doing exactly those, and that’s what made honest communication so disastrous before – I kept trying to win the conversation. I was treating him like an opposing force, not my teammate. So for us to start having successful communication, we needed to change from negative communication traits over to more positive ones.
My first and biggest hurdle was separating my emotional reaction to my partner’s words. I’ve been called a spitfire before, and I admit I’ve well-earned the joking moniker. Part of that is my tendency to ask but not listen. For example, I’d ask my partner how his paper was going while internally rehearsing a script of how my own day or paper was and figuring out where we should eat dinner rather than listening deeply to his answer. I justified my distraction as a lack of interest since we studied very different topics. But when I took the time to stop and listen, I stopped hearing strange phrases I could barely grasp. Instead, I started hearing his excitement at a project he knew he was acing, his relief at finally turning in a difficult paper, his joy and confidence in the skills he’d been honing for years. When I stopped focusing on what I would say next and focused only on him, even the topic-specific terms didn’t seem so foreign. I learned I could ask him what he meant if I was confused and that doing so could help him organize his thoughts. And I could learn something cool outside my own field too!
That change helped us quite a bit. I felt closer to my partner, and he felt more appreciated and valued. By engaging with him and the project or topic or professorial anecdote on his mind, my respect for him grew.
That strategy is even more critical in heavier contexts. In my case, the heaviest topic was religion. My partner and I had clashing perspectives and opinions on the Catholic faith we were both raised in, both for deeply personal and emotional reasons. We could agree on some aspects of the Catholic faith, but when we disagreed it was on a fundamental level. Whenever we talked about it, we both became defensive and closed-off – more like adversaries to be won over than partners who wanted to understand. For months we’d get stuck in a rut because we’d have a fight, close off, and then ignore the topic for a little while. But of course, that solution was impermanent and damaging. Without us completely realizing, we slowly lost our trust in each other. We separated emotionally.
I thought that was from the topic itself, but it was really because of our negative communication traits. I planned my replies, interrupted, took his words as intended offense, and entered the conversation with my mind made up. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to communicate negatively about particularly sensitive, heavy, or challenging topics. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you approach your partner with respect and love before the conversation even starts. You won’t be able to completely avoid talking about tough things, but you can make the process as painless as possible. It helps so much when you have each other’s backs.
That’s why this second module is your foundation for the entire course. Before you can start working on things you want to improve, you both need to know how to communicate effectively and positively – so that when you do address challenges in your relationship, you can do it together instead of as adversaries. You want to invite positive change, not force your partner to accept your views.
Here’s an important thing to remember: like any perspective change, better communication doesn’t happen overnight. It unfolded gradually as my partner and I journeyed through the course. So if you’re not seeing this mind-blowing change right away, that’s normal. For me, the change crept up so slowly that I barely noticed it until I reflected back and compared how my partner and I had communicated before the course versus after.
As you start the course with this module, take your time with it. Make reminders for key positive communication traits and keep them in mind whenever you talk with your partner. Pay attention to your mood before entering into a conversation. It’s okay to take some time for yourself and have the conversation later when you’re in a better position to do so. That’s something I’m still focusing on months after the course. Since this module is a foundational one, don’t hesitate to go back to it and review as you need. Journeys are rarely linear!
And most importantly, enjoy! This is the start of an amazing journey for you both.
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