There are so many reasons that people feel silenced in relationships. Fear of hurting your partner, feelings of discouragement that your partner will not understand, fear of an argument and then disconnection, and sometimes it is challenging just to find the words to express our thoughts and feelings. Today, I want to focus on the importance of voice in relationships.
I worry about the toll that lack of voice in relationships will take on you and, therefore, your relationship. And while using your voice is important, what is even more important is ‘how’ you use your voice.
Voice is never to be used for blame, shaming, threatening or accusations. You may be quick to say that you do not engage in these types of behaviors, but keep in mind that they can be expressed in degrees. Meaning that to some degree, all of us may blame, shame, threaten or accuse. It might be subtle, but we all do at least one or more of these actions. For example, if you have an issue to discuss with your partner such as not spending enough time together, you might want to say “you are always working, and your work is more important to you than me.” This is an accusation that will only result in an argument and hurt feelings. Shifting out of an accusation would be this, “I miss you and I would enjoy spending more time with you because I feel closer and more connected with you when we do”. But most of us do not recognize that we are accusatory and we struggle to know how to say what we mean.
An example of a subtle shame statement is: “How could you do that to me?” rather than saying “I felt hurt.” Keep in mind that both statements may result in a person feeling shame because many feel shame when we know that we have hurt someone whom we love. However, the first statement is a ‘shaming’ statement while the second one is an expression of emotion.
An example of a threat is “I don’t want to put up with this anymore”. This is a threat of abandonment of your relationship and can be frightening to the person on the receiving end. You might replace it with this: “I sometimes feel scared that our patterns of conflict don’t change”.
And blame (and so on) might be expressed to a strong degree; for example, when very little accountability is acknowledged for one’s actions. If you are on the receiving end of a strong degree of this attempt at communication, it is important to use your voice to disengage from being in this destructive engagement. Being silenced by being blamed, shamed, threatened or accused will do harm to your inner being and your relationship. It is important to recognize that by not using your voice when this occurs with your partner, your partner does not have a reason to find an alternative way to communicate. Meaning that if you continue to engage, you are not asking for change! Also, I want you to know that I’m not suggesting that you disengage in a way that might feel punishing to your partner. I am suggesting that you share with your partner that you want to discuss whatever the topic may be but without blame and so on.
Here is another thought on the importance of voice. When people enter into therapy, I think that most often they are hoping for advice of some sort. However, I rarely give advice. I may provide teaching, guidance and suggestions but what I encourage most is for people to find their own wonderful, unique voice! I have had many people express to me that they were initially frustrated that I did not give advice (which I understand) but then they were grateful when they realized that they were able to find, and then more importantly ‘use’, their voice!
Using your voice (in the right way) is empowering, liberating and a powerful way to build self-esteem. Of course, using your voice in your relationship never means that you are guaranteed a positive outcome. However, if you use your voice in the best, healthiest way possible you can at least feel good about you and how you handled the situation at hand. All too often people leave a relationship never expressing to their partner what it was that made them unhappy. If you don’t express what it is that makes you unhappy, you never allow for growth in your partner and then your relationship. It is important to remember though that growth takes time, and I mean time!!
And by the way, the topic of voice is important for both women and men. I think that men are just as worried as women about how to use their voice in a relationship because men, as much as women, do not want disconnection. I know that women often want men to “open up” more, but at times, men worry that nothing good will come of them opening up and expressing what it is that makes them unhappy. Therefore, it is important to recognize a few things. First, give each other a bit of wiggle room for imperfect communication – you and your partner will not always express yourselves in the best way possible. It is challenging for all of us to express our very complicated thoughts and feelings. Second, learn as much as you can about how to express your thoughts and feelings without blame, shame, threats and accusations. And finally, remember to use your voice with love, compassion, and empathy. And most important – ask for the same in return.
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Photo Credit BK@flickr.comShare