I’ve been thinking a lot about how learning the best communication skills known to womankind is crucial to having an awesomely amazing lesbian relationship. (BTW — It’s just as important for straight couples, too!)
In fact, in my previous blog I shared how to improve your communication instantly with 7 non-verbal communication moves. If you haven’t yet read it, you can check it out here. Then, be sure to come back so you can soak up the next level of communication magic I’m about to share.
If you’re anything like the couples that I see in my Denver lesbian couples therapy practice, you’re probably rocking communication when you and your babe are talking about happy subjects and things you agree on.
But alas, when you think about having a conversation about a difficult or sensitive topic…
You either hit your inner wall of avoidance and collapse into shut-down mode. Or else you launch into a big talk, and quickly fly into an angry (and sometimes mean) fight that get’s you nowhere.
Do either of those scenarios sound familiar? Is it hard to speak your truth and not have a meltdown? This is often the case for women in lesbian relationships.
If so, you’ve landed in the right place. Because I’m about to show you how to get an A+ every time you and your partner talk. Even about the really tough topics. And that is what will move you from disconnection to deep connection and long term happiness.
Learn to communicate successfully with your partner by understanding the essential 2 roles of effective communication.
Before we dive into what it takes to communicate really well, I want to tip my hat to my mentors who taught me these principles: Dr. Ellyn Bader and Dr. Peter Pearson. Their Developmental Model of Couples Therapy based communication system has improved how my partner and I communicate by leaps and bounds.
And now that I teach it to all the couples I work with, it’s changed their relationships in enormously positive ways, too.
This stuff works!
2 ROLES THAT LEAD TO GREAT COMMUNICATION THROUGH THE DEVELOPMENT OF SELF:
Drs. Bader and Pearson coined the term Initiator-to-Inquirer to describe the two roles required to communicate effectively and to grow intimacy through the development of self.
Practicing and getting good at these two roles will help you and your partner manage the tension that is bound to arise as differences between you bubble up.
I want you to know that having differences from your partner in what you think, feel, want, and desire is a normal part of a healthy relationship.
But let’s be real…those differences can cause a lot of distress and anxiety.
Differentiation is what will enable you to cope with the tension that’s bound to come up when those differences rear their ugly heads.
Practicing differentiation through the Initiator-to-Inquirer process is the path to handling conflict successfully and to having a thriving, authentic, and alive relationship for life.
1. THE ROLE OF INITIATOR
In the Initiator-to-Inquirer system, the initiator is the person who is bringing up a concern or a tough topic to share with her partner.
To me, the Initiator role is the embodiment of steady vulnerability.
As the initiator, your main goal will be to express your concern openly and vulnerably to your partner. So that you can share (and perhaps discover) your truth. All the while, soothing the anxiety that might creep into your body. That’s what I mean by staying steady.
This is what Ellyn Bader calls differentiation of self.
It can be challenging to feel at ease when you’re taking the risk of expressing negative feelings or when you want something different than she wants. That’s why you’ve got to hold steady. And continue to be vulnerable at the same time.
Wondering how to stay steady in a difficult conversation?
Stay steady by taking a deep breath and reminding yourself that if you jump back into the crib of conflict-avoidance you’re actually inhibiting the growth and expansiveness of your relationship.
FOUR STEPS TO REVEALING YOUR SELF…
Before you start a conversation with your partner, get clear on your main concern. Only focus on one issue.
It’s terrifically important that you stay on track with just one issue. So, prepare yourself mentally to not trail off on other tangents.
Then, let your partner know that you have something to share with her, and ask if this is a good time to talk. If she’s upset, about to go to bed, or expecting a visitor any minute, she’s probably not in a state to listen calmly.
If you’re partner’s in a good space to talk, tell her exactly what you want from her in this conversation. For example, you might say, “I just want you to listen and understand where I’m coming from. You don’t have to solve anything.”
Remind yourself to stay focused on your one, main issue.
Begin to describe your feelings and thoughts to your sweetheart. Don’t worry if you sound like you’re contradicting yourself. Feelings don’t always make sense. And they’re often complicated.
Be sure to look for the vulnerability that dwells underneath the feelings that you’re initially aware of.
In other words, start to explore other, vulnerable feelings you’re having. And take the risk of sharing that vulnerability with your partner.
Vulnerability is what grows intimacy!
Take ownership of your own feelings. Remind yourself throughout this conversation: This is my issue. It’s an expression of who I am and about me revealing my true self.
Make sure you don’t blame your partner for your feelings and concerns. Blaming will stop you cold in your tracks from knowing yourself.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t laps into name calling or belittling your partner. It will only result in her getting defensive or aggressive. That tactic is mean, and it will instantly put a halt to your positive communication.
As the initiator, you get to explore your most personal and inner experience. Your truth.
This is the gift of self-discovery. But you’ll only get to fully enjoy this precious gift if you keep going deeper into how you feel.
As you process your feelings with your partner, you have a remarkable opportunity to learn more about yourself. About how you think, feel, and respond.
Keep reminding yourself that this gift hinges on your willingness to take the risk to speak up and discover your truth.
2. THE ROLE OF INQUIRER
In the Initiator-to-Inquirer communication system, the inquirer plays the role of the effective listener.
But this role is much more than just listening. The inquirer has the opportunity to reach a much deeper understanding of her partner (the Initiator). And to also help her partner get to a place of profound self-discovery and acceptance.
I believe the distinguishing essence of the Inquirer is what I call radical curiosity.
When you’re in the role of Inquirer, your top objective is to listen and ask questions in such a way that facilitates your getting to know more about what makes your partner tick. In turn, that curiosity will enable her to grow as an individual and to stand confidently in her own truth.
Make no mistake, it will be challenging at times to be an effective listener.
Imagine for example how you’ll feel if your beloved tells you that she’s very angry with you for something you did. Especially when your intentions were golden.
See, when you’re in the Inquirer role, you’ll have to work on staying steady, as well.
You can remind yourself that the issue your partner is bringing up is her problem. You don’t own the problem, nor do you have to fix it. Your job is just to manage your reactions in a way that doesn’t detract from your partner fully expressing herself.
Take a deep breath with a slower exhale if you start to get upset. And remind yourself that you only need to listen. You don’t have to solve anything.
FOUR STEPS TO BECOMING AN EFFECTIVE LISTENER…
Here, your big task is to listen calmly. Without getting defensive or turning the tables to focus on one of your complaints.
Put your full attention on what your partner is taking the risk to talk about with you. And tell yourself, “I don’t own this problem and I don’t have to take it personally.”
Stay calm and steady so you can listen in a way that lets your partner completely talk through what she’s bringing up. Later on (in another conversation) you can have a turn to talk about yourself.
I’m sure you’ve heard from other communication teachers about paraphrasing or parroting back what you hear your partner saying. And if you’re like many people, you might feel frustrated with this particular step of how to be a good listener.
But don’t skip this step even though it might feel silly or artificial.
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of recapping or repeating back to your partner what you’ve understood her to say. And to be as accurate and thorough as possible.
You know how badly you want to be understood? Well guess what…your partner feels the same way.
And the best way to let your babe know you understand her is by intentionally recapping what you hear her saying. (She can do the same for you when you initiate a conversation with her.)
If your partner has a tendency to go on and on, you can lovingly ask her to pause so that you can make sure you’re hearing her correctly. It’s hard to recap 10 minutes worth of monologue.
When you’re in the inquirer role, show up with lots of curiosity. Work on developing a genuinely interested and curious state of mind whenever you’re listening.
Ask questions that will help your partner understand her experience more completely. And remember that your questions will help with her self-discovery. In turn, you’ll understand your partner more fully.
Imagine showing up like an inquisitive journalist when you’re in this inquirer role.
Staying curious about your partner’s feelings, thoughts, and history will help you get to a place of deeper understanding and intimate connection.
One of the most touching gifts you can give your partner when she has something vulnerable she wants to talk to you about is to get to a moment where she feels soothed.
Remember that it’s probably scary for your partner to take the risk of sharing her vulnerable feelings. And that doing so will likely cause her tension and distress.
So if you can actually facilitate a moment where your honey can finally relax because she feels understood and accepted…
Well, that’s priceless.
Empathy is one of the most effective ways to soothe your partner when she’s initiated a vulnerable conversation with you.
So, put yourself in her shoes. You can be empathetic and still hold onto yourself.
Keep sharing your empathetic statements and a soothing moment will eventually occur. And don’t forget that a gentle touch can amplify the soothing effects of your verbal empathy.
GREAT COMMUNICATION TAKES TEAMWORK
If you’ve found this article to be helpful, I encourage you to share it with your partner. That way, you’ll both understand the two roles that are essential to successful communication.
My goal is for you and your partner to learn to communicate successfully and save your relationship (…and make it thrive)!
The essence to great communication is the willingness to take a stand for differentiation. And that means calmly tolerating the tension that arises when you and your partner have different thoughts, ideas, feelings, and desires.
No doubt, it takes working as a team to pull that off.
So remember that you and your partner each have two roles to play when you’re communicating about a challenging topic. And that you’ll each only play one role at a time during a given conversation.
When you’re the Initiator — take a deep breath, focus on one issue, stand firmly in steady vulnerability, don’t blame your partner, and dare to discover new things about yourself.
And when you’re the Inquirer — listen calmly and don’t get defensive, recap what you’re hearing, embrace radical curiosity, and move into empathy as much as possible.
If you find that you and your partner have trouble putting these skills into practice, consider coming to work with me at The Lesbian Couples Institute.
Call to set up a free initial consultation if you live in Denver. Together we’ll decide if the Lesbian Relationship Breakthrough Program would be a good fit for your relationship.
Don’t live near Denver? Then check out our Lesbian Couples Retreat In Denver. It might be the perfect opportunity to quickly get your communication and relationship back on a secure path.
Let me help you become the happiest couple you know.