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Breaking the ice, after a cold winter

This note is about communication, specifically that situation where there's stress in a relationship and you find yourself not communicating about a difficult issue.

There could be all kinds of reasons why you've stopped talking, maybe it's to avoid arguments, or avoid facing something you feel awful, afraid or hopeless about? In any case there's a sense of avoidance. There's also a sense that either talking wont help, or that the price in terms of feared consequences or wounded pride is too high.
So the reasons for not talking boil down to fear, anger or hopelessness.

But while you've focusing on avoiding communicating, it's easy to forget one simple fact.

Relationships are about being connected, and the way we connect to other people is by communicating. That's why the longer you put off sharing something that is really significant to you or the other person, the more it seems like the life of the relationship is being sucked out. If you've slipped into that situation gradually, it may even seem 'normal', or you struggle to imagine how things could change.

The life of a relationship, is the communication in it. If you agree with that idea, and you can remember it when the fear, anger or lack of hope is urging you to carry on avoiding reaching out, you may find a stronger motivation to find a way through and start talking again.

Of course, breaking that ice when it has built up over time can be hard. There are habits to break and uncertainties to face. But change is possible, and if you want the relationship to live and be healthy and loving, change is also necessary.

To help you make a good decision, be sure to carefully consider the benefits of overcoming that resistance to talking openly about something pressing on your mind. Picturing yourself having already crossed that bridge, how would life be better? Also, how might it be better for the other person?

If you're at the point where you've decided it's time to talk, but you're not sure how to start, here is one possible beginning: "I'd like to talk about something I've been finding it hard to talk about, and I'd like to know how things are for you. I'm not interested in blaming, or judging, I'd just like to have more understanding and communication between us. How does that sound to you?"

Maybe, although you really want to have more communication and openness on a certain subject, it just seems too big or overwhelming to address squarely? You could try taking intermediate steps, or being indirect, and while it might work sometimes you risk creating confusion, or sending the message that you really feel uncomfortable or shameful talking about the subject.

If someone thinks you're uncomfortable talking about something which they also feel bad about, they may personalize that interpretation and suspect that you see something at fault with them (which may or may not be the case). If you're not looking to find fault, then being direct allows you to more easily avoid such common misunderstandings.

If you just want to talk without blaming then what seems like a huge issue can become more approachable with a shift in thinking. One key shift is from a 'threat-focused' perspective to a 'collaborative' one.

A collaborative perspective is where you have the clear and overriding intent to work together with someone to overcome challenges or conflict - in a way that holds everyone's feelings and needs as equal, while also avoiding alienating judgement. This is in contrast to a threat-focused attitude where the situation is experienced more in terms of 'me against them'. You have the power to choose which perspective to take.

If you can take a collaborative perspective it can give you a lot of strength to open up - and in the kind of way that invites reciprocation.

"Healthy Loving Relationships" goes into a lot more detail about communicating with a collaborative perspective and other effective ways to 'break the ice' - as well as related subjects like being assertive, making requests and emotional responsibility.

Reader Resources: 
References to the book, to help you go deeper into the above content.
  • Section: "Distinct mode of conflict"   Explores the fundamental approaches to dealing with conflict or disagreements and how to get better results.
  • Section: "The glass melon dichotomy"   Shows how 'just listening' can allow personal connections to grow and blossom, opening up the path to acceptance and honest sharing.
  • Section: "Criticism, 'over-sensitivity' and the wall"   Looks at different ways to understand and deal with criticism and resistance to talking about difficult subjects.
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