31 Mar It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it….
Often when I have clients come in to discuss topics related to their couple relationships, family relationships or friendships, what I hear is: “I can’t tell them because I may hurt their feelings.”
Well, one thing we know as therapists is that this exact type of thinking is what frequently keeps people stuck in unhealthy relationships or prevents connection. When we withhold what we are thinking to ‘protect’ someone, we don’t allow opportunity for connection or growth. We stagnate, we build resentments, we create negative thought patterns. While you thought you were preventing something from happening to the other person, ie. hurting their feelings, you were actually denying an opportunity for connection, for dealing with your own internal struggles and for growth in the relationship. Is trying to spare someone’s feelings worth building up resentments and internal unhappiness?
What if we spoke how we felt, shared our fears, discussed concerns with our partners and friends, considering the importance of the words we chose but thinking beyond the tragic impact we ASSUME those words will have? By taking the time to think about what is at the heart of our feelings, we can often tease out what it is that we really want to say.
Let me give you an example: You’re upset because your partner has lost their job. You don’t want to say anything because you know your partner is already feeling upset, guilty, worried about the future. You assume that if you say something it will upset them further and you don’t want to do that. However, you are also struggling and worried about what that means for your future, so neither of you talk about it. You both fear responses from the other. Over time this avoidance can become an unhealthy pattern, creating the disconnect and resentment that you are trying to avoid. What if instead you sat down with your partner asked if you could talk to them about the job loss? What if you acknowledged that you both have some fears about what this may mean? What if you listened to their concerns, and then communicated your own. If you approach these discussions with statements like “I am worried about“…, “My fear is“… etc., it allows an opportunity for open dialogue rather than blame or hurt feelings. A shared discussion of your fears will lead to a connection that can help you through a difficult time.
TAMMY BENWELL, MSW, RSW
Tammy is a passionate therapist at Bliss Counselling. She believes in fostering a collaborative, therapeutic relationship within which clients are best able to direct their own care. In addition to providing therapy to individuals, couples, and families, Tammy’s work has also involved finding community supports for clients in distress, assisting with life transitions, and enhancing effective interpersonal communication styles. Book an appointment with Tammy online today!