Build a Bridge before Crossing
If you attempt to drive your car across a bridge that can't support its weight, you will fall into the river and possibly drown. The same is true of communication with your partner. If you attempt to communicate something to your partner and the bridge of your connection is not strong enough to hold it, your truth will fall on the floor between you. Something quite different from what you both are wanting usually follows.
Building a bridge of connection can take many forms. You are likely doing this off and on all day with the people around you. You intuitively know how important it is to do this with co-workers, employees, clients, etc. With your partner however, you might lapse into the assumption that the bridge is there and you don't have to keep building it. This couldn't be farther from the truth.
You and your partner likely feel and express more vulnerability with each other than in any other relationship you have. Bridge building and maintenance needs to be as constant as your breath to hold this much vulnerability with love and compassion.
Let's look at a specific example. Your partner has been away on a business trip. After dinner she says she is going to go out and work in her studio for a while. You feel your heart sink. You were hoping for some time with her. As she leaves, you feel hurt and resentment arise. She comes back in for some tea a bit later and greets you. You are cold to her and she asks what's wrong.
This is the critical moment. You want to share your feelings and needs and you hope she can receive them with kindness. If you don't recognize that the two of you have been in different worlds for the last hour, you are likely send your feelings and needs across to your partner with no bridge to hold them. Instead of hearing your heart, your partner may hear an attack and begin defending.
You can build a bridge by acknowledging both worlds before expressing your vulnerability. Maybe you say something like, "Honey, I know you are stressed out from your trip and working in your studio helps you to decompress. I want you to take the time you need. At the same time I notice I miss you and want to have some time together. Do you have any interest in snuggling and checking in at some point tonight?" Expressing your feelings and needs in this way you offer compassion to your partner and take responsibility for your needs.
Here are some other ways to build a bridge with your partner:
§ Check for Readiness: You honor yourself and your partner when you ask if he or she is ready and willing to talk about something before diving into it.
§ Support Autonomy: Before making any request, you can begin with reassurance that you really want your partner to say yes or no based on what really works for them. This shows you aren't making a demand, but rather have the flexibility to negotiate decisions in a way that works for both of you.
§ Affirm Inclusion: Even as you are doing things on your own you can include your partner. You can offer simple things like reminding him or her that you are holding them in your heart, letting them know that having their support in taking care of yourself is important, and affirming that you consider the impact of your decisions on him or her.
§ Share Met Needs: Make it a habit to explicitly acknowledge all the mundane and special ways your partner meets your needs and the needs of your family. This helps your partner to trust that you see his or her good intention and contribution. When this trust is present it's much easier to meet an expression of unmet needs without reactivity.
This week notice all the little and big ways you build and maintain a bridge with the people around you. Ask yourself if you are making an equal effort with your partner. If not try experimenting with bringing as much carefulness and respect to your partner as you would with a client, supervisor, or other important relationship. Set aside a whole day for this practice or for one of the practices above (acknowledging both worlds, checking for readiness, supporting autonomy, affirming inclusion, or sharing met needs).