Joanne Lescher teaches classes in Compassionate Communication and counsels couples and families in communicating more effectively. We caught up with Joanne at Hidden Springs Wellness Center where she does her programs to ask her about the questions people most often ask her. So, Joanne, what sorts of questions do you get?
There are some good ones. Like, “My husband just doesn’t seem to have any feelings. How do I get him to open up?” That question always reminds me of what one of my male clients said: “I had a feeling once. Fortunately it passed quickly!”
So here is how I answered her: “There are two things to keep in mind if you want your husband to share his feelings with you. The first is that men and women express emotions differently. Men tend to live more in a world of action rather than feelings. This means that to share his feelings, he must shift into a foreign and somewhat scary world.
The second thing to keep in mind is that your listening skills actually affect his willingness and desire to share his feelings. Listening is a vital skill that we were never taught. In fact, most of us had dysfunctional communication modeled to us. When you learn to create a safe environment for him, listening beneath the story to his feelings and needs and then feeding those back to him, he will be much more likely to feel heard and want to open up.”
Is there a question you often get from men?
Sure, something like, “My wife just talks and talks and talks. She keeps saying the same thing over and over. I want to share with her, but I get tired of the repetition. It’s just too much.”
Here’s how I answer them: “Often, when someone repeats themselves, it’s because they don’t feel heard. They want people to really “get” them and until they feel heard, they will just keep talking! This doesn’t mean you haven’t been listening, it just means they don’t feel heard. So, letting them know what you’ve just heard can be very comforting. They can relax, because they really feel heard!”
What’s a common question you get from couples?
“Every time we talk about money, we end up in an argument. What can we do?” There are many different kinds of highly charged conflicts — money, sex, kids, in-laws, etc. —where good communication skills are vital. I encourage my clients to practice with less charged issues first. Don’t expect to come out of your first Compassionate Communication class and tackle all your major issues overnight! But with practice you’ll be amazed at how well you can navigate even the most challenging issues in your relationship. What a relief! To not have them building up under the surface any more.
So, can you share how to deal with those major charged issues?
First, make sure that only one of you is talking at a time and that the other one is really listening. Usually we both compete to be heard at the same time and, it becomes a battle of the “Yabuts”. “Yeah, but you do this…”, Yeah, but you are…”, “Yeah, but, if only you would…”, and it keeps escalating from there. When you slow everything down, and have the least charged partner feed back what they are hearing, it dramatically changes the conversation. Of course, if both of you are too charged to listen, you won’t be able to do this. Then you need to cool off, get some space, and maybe call a friend who can empathize with you, so you can at least feel heard by someone.
How do you help newlyweds get past that honeymoon phase and build a long lasting relationship?
It’s simple. Develop effective communication skills and then practice, practice, practice. This takes time, energy, and attention, but the rewards are incredible —closeness, joy, laughter, humor, fun, playfulness, and a deepening of your love and companionship. I love working with newlyweds and even those preparing for marriage. Effective communication practiced from the beginning can prevent much of the pain that accumulates in long-term marriages.
Tell us about your own marriage.
George and I have been married 31 years and I’ll tell you that humor is a very important part of our relationship. Also, not taking ourselves too seriously, spending time together, creating fun weekly date nights, keeping our commitment to communicating together when things get tough, not going to bed mad… these are all part of making our relationship a top priority. We know that you either spend your energy making the relationship great, or you spend your energy cleaning up the messes. We choose door number one, and I’m happy to help other couples learn to do the same. It’s so rewarding for me to help couples work toward creating the relationship of their dreams.
Joanne Lescher has trained extensively with Marshall Rosenberg in Non Violent Communication. Her reputation has been affectionately summarized as an “ability to tame lions.” You can reach her at Hidden Springs Wellness Center, 541 488-8858, or firstname.lastname@example.org www.speakingfromtheheart.com.