I just recently experienced a communication explosion. Not just any explosion, but the nuclear holocaust of communication blow ups…BOOM! There was a time when I was incredible at expressing my feelings, staying on task with the subject matter as opposed to attacking, and talking about things immediately instead of letting things fester. We change though, especially if we find ourselves in an abusive relationship. This happened to me many years ago when I endured personal insult, gaslighting, manipulation, and threats in communication attempts. I found myself shutting down. I shut down to protect myself. I eventually was able to leave the relationship, but the damage had been done. Fast forward to today.
My husband and I met almost 7 ½ years ago. It was a Boom Shaka Laka kind of meeting; you get that, right? It was an immediate attraction, whirlwind romance, full speed ahead, let’s get this party started kind of romance. We were married a year and a half from our first date. We each brought to the table our own special circumstances. I was a trauma survivor with a history of abusive relationships and undiagnosed PTSD. He was a recovering crack addict, four years sober at the time. I saw the world as a dangerous place. He saw it as a new beginning. I thought things through, he was sporadic and impulsive. Sometimes it felt like ying and yang, other times like an uphill battle. I would get angry, he took nothing seriously. I would want to discuss and analyze the why of something, he did not see the necessity in dragging out our problems any more than needed. We were both right and we were both wrong. Our communication broke down and we fell into the Passive Aggressive Zone. Resentments and distance now had a garden to grow in and we were all too eager to tend to it.
My therapist likes to use the term Big T or Little T, T standing for trauma. “This is a Big T, Lisa,” or “These Little T’s add up.” I will use this template for my situation with the reference Big B, the Big Boom. Things eventually come to a head, it’s unavoidable, and so it has come to our door, the Big B. We are facing our first relationship changing issue. There is no passive aggression at this point because it is too big to hide under a rug. There would be no more hiding from our feelings. It is now time to face them head on. Looking back I visualize it this way. Imagine several small dilapidated buildings surrounding a house. The buildings are in need of repair, yet no one wants to take the time to invest in them. The house that is looking out over them suffers a gas leak. It explodes taking with it all of the surrounding buildings. The property lies in shards of carnage. The owners have two choices, rebuild or just leave it. What do you do? It would be easy to walk away from the mess and just start new somewhere else with a new property. Rebuilding this one means we have to meet with contractors and clean-up crews. There will be a time of displacement, there will be a time of discomfort. When it is finished, we can come home. It won’t be the same, which is both good and bad, it will be different. What is the right choice? Neither are wrong quite honestly. Sometimes we have to walk away from the mess and start anew, sometimes we stay and do the dirty work. We have chosen the latter.
We are now looking at the healing process. The Big Boom has destroyed the dilapidated buildings that we were ignoring so that now everything is on the table. Therapists will be visited individually and couples therapy is in the near future. Holding a grudge is not a choice for either of us if we want to heal so we have to offer reassurance and honest communication, even when it is difficult. This is all a process and it will not take overnight. My hope is that we grow as a couple. That I learn that I am safe expressing my feelings in a healthy way. That he learns that sometimes you do have to discuss problems and saying “I’m sorry,” is not always enough. We are forever changed moving forward, much like the exploded house I described, it will be different…but it could be better. It could be stronger. It could be more beautiful.
We fell short in the communication department and we are paying the price with hefty repairs now. Practicing good communication and open discussion is the foundation for healthy growth. Here are some healthy communication suggestions that I found on www.loveisrespect.org. This is an amazing website that not only helps with issues such as communication, but also helps with identifying abuse and other relationship issues. I highly recommend checking it out! Here are their suggestions for healthy communication:
- Find the Right Time – If something is bothering you and you would like to have a conversation about it, it can be helpful to find the right time to talk. Try to find a time when both you and your partner are calm and not distracted, stressed, or in a rush. You might even consider scheduling a time to talk if one or both of you is really busy!
- Talk Face to Face – Avoid talking about serious matters or issues in writing. Text messages, letters and emails can be misinterpreted. Talk in person so there aren’t any unnecessary miscommunications. If you’re having trouble collecting your thoughts, consider writing them down ahead of time and reading them out loud to your partner.
- Do Not Attack – Even when we mean well, we can sometimes come across as harsh because of our word choice. Using “you” can sound like you’re attacking, which will make your partner defensive and less receptive to your message. Instead, try using “I” or “we.” For example, say “I feel like we haven’t been as close lately” instead of “You have been distant with me.”
- Be Honest – Agree to be honest. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it’s the key to a healthy relationship. Admit that you aren’t always perfect and apologize when you make a mistake instead of making excuses. You will feel better and it will help strengthen your relationship.
- Check Your Body Language – Let your partner know you’re really listening by giving them your full attention: sit up, face them and make eye contact when speaking. Don’t take a phone call, text or play a video game when you’re talking. Show your partner you respect them by listening and responding.
- Use the 48 Hour Rule – If your partner does something that makes you angry, you need to tell them about it. But you don’t have to do so right away. If you’re still hurt 48 hours later, say something. If not, consider forgetting about it. But remember your partner can’t read your mind. If you don’t speak up when you’re upset, there is no way for them to apologize or change. Once you do mention your hurt feelings and your partner sincerely apologies, let it go. Don’t bring up past issues if they’re not relevant.
I wish I could say that my husband and I followed the above suggestions, obviously we did not, not consistently anyway. The good news is we are working on that now and are trying to rebuild and start over. If a trauma survivor with PTSD and a recovering crackhead can do it…I’m guessing you can too. Much love and healing to you all.