Being vulnerable means being authentic and being able to risk expressing your thoughts, feelings, and wishes without fear of rejection. It means you are in control of yourself, not the relationship. Many people complain that they aren’t getting their needs met with their partner, but they don’t feel comfortable sharing their desires. Or, they fail to make requests in a positive, non-blameful way to begin with.
Before you can begin to build successful relationships, you must have healthy self-esteem – which means believing in yourself. One of the first things to consider is: how do you treat yourself? No one is going to treat you with respect if you beat yourself up. Get rid of all those self-defeating thoughts in your head – such as calling yourself “stupid” that won’t help you express your needs effectively.
Tom and Melinda, both in their mid-forties, have been married for ten years. During our first counseling session, Melinda’s stated that her low self-esteem and mistrust of Tom have contributed to their communication problems. She admitted that she tends to keep secrets from Tom – especially when she lends her younger brother Sam money. Melinda said, “I withhold information from Tom due to fear of rejection or dealing with Tom’s possible angry response.”
Tom reflects: “I know that I can get defensive and critical of Melinda when it comes to loaning Sam money. But the facts are that when she is honest with me and tells me up front, I’m not blindsided and so don’t get angry. I care about my brother-in-law and he is a good kid. I also realize that Melinda is like his mom since their parents died suddenly when he was young. I love my wife and don’t want her to be so afraid of my response that she feels she has to keep secrets from me.”
When one partner communicates effectively it encourages his or her partner to do the same. That said, communication affects how safe and secure we feel in our relationship and affects our level of intimacy. In other words, it’s a challenge to be vulnerable and honest with a person when you can’t trust they’ll respond in a positive or appropriate way.
For instance, because Melinda fears Tom will be critical of her, she doesn’t speak up or share her feelings honestly. Then when this happens, Tom feels angry and resentful and the vicious cycle of poor communication continues. Now that Melinda and Tom are aware of this dysfunctional pattern, they are working on ways to listen and respond more positively to each other to improve the quality of their communication.
One highly effective way of stopping this negative cycle of relating to your partner is the use of “I” messages or “I” Statements when communicating important information to your partner. An “I” message is an assertive statement about your thoughts or feelings without placing blame or judgment on your partner. It makes it more likely your partner will hear what you say and not get defensive in contrast to a “You” message which is negative and lacks integrity.
An “I” message is a style of communication that focuses on the feelings or beliefs of the speaker rather than thoughts and characteristics that the speaker attributes to the listener. For instance, a person might say to his or her partner, “I feel worried when you come home late without calling.” Instead, a “You” message is critical, such as “You’re so selfish, you never call me when you’re running late.” Further, “I” messages are a good way to ensure that partners are accepting responsibility for their feelings and actions. There are three aspects of using “I” messages effectively according to experts.
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