Withheld Communications by Carl Studna
A few years into our relationship, Cynthia and I felt it beneficial to participate in a relationship weekend workshop taught by a couple we both respected and admired. By this time, we had been married for about a year and had been living together for about three. This new chapter of daily cohabitation was reflecting areas of communication that needed sharpening and strengthening. Reoccurring themes and issues were arising and we needed support in learning specific tools and practices that would bring forth successful communication where we both felt heard and respected.
Throughout the weekend we were immersed in powerfully effective processes and gathered a treasured toolbox of practices to apply when needed, two of which we’re still devoted to applying on a daily basis! (Listed in the Tools and Practices section at the end of the book).
On the last day of the workshop in the last process, we hit a wall. The exercise involved creating a safe space to fully listen to and receive your partner’s grievances, those circumstances and dynamics they were holding in for fear that their partner would react adversely. We chose an A and B. A was given specific guidelines on how to communicate without blame, leading from an open heart with the emphasis of expressing their innate needs. B was to listen fully without interruption until A was complete.
Cynthia began as A and I was to listen openly. She began to express her frustration related to a reoccurring pattern. In her purview, I was not following through with specific agreements we had made. As an example, I had agreed to be the one to empty and take out the garbage on a weekly basis. Because this agreement was not being met in the timeframe she anticipated, I was breaking our agreement. I was doing my best to listen and stay open as she went down a list of upsets, but as she continued, I was feeling more and more misunderstood by the second. In my mind, most of her examples (such as the garbage) involved situations where I did follow through with what we agreed, only in a different timeframe than when she had in mind.
When it became my turn to speak, some deep wound had been triggered and I could not find a way to return to my center. In that moment, I felt severely blamed and misunderstood. The next thing I knew, we were being asked to wrap up the exercise and complete the workshop. This triggered another wound related to the pressure of being rushed when not ready to complete something! I remember sitting across from Cynthia and feeling so angry, small and misunderstood, mixed with thoughts that the workshop had clearly been a radical failure, blaming the format that brought me into such an unset and vulnerable state without the time to reach a resolution.
Being two of the last participants still in the room, it was clear that I needed to pry myself from the seat and leave. In that moment, I had to simply trust that we could table this discussion and resume the inquiry following a bit of time for reflection and perspective. Within a short while, we continued to explore this issue and arrive at a clearer resolution. I was willing to acknowledge times where I wasn’t keeping my agreements, and we became clear that I needed specific deadlines for various tasks that I was agreeing to fulfill.
This scenario served as a great example and reminder that there will be times with my partner when, even in the midst of the most effective exercises and processes, we simply need to take some breathing room for reflection and greater clarity that can only come through being still in my own rhythm and pace that opens the door to a greater sense of perspective, free from blame and shame where love’s truth purely resides.
In the long run, this workshop proved of great benefit as we still practice on a daily basis two of the exercises given to us over sixteen years ago. Every evening before bed, we share ten things we’re grateful for that day. We then trade off with three rounds of acknowledgments, bringing praiseful attention to various wins and accomplishments seen throughout the day. These acknowledgments are directed toward our partner and ourselves. These two processes have become such an integrated practice woven into the fabric of our daily lives and both support us in taking the time to weave a depth of gratitude and truly feel seen by the other. I’m convinced that when we live in a rich state of thanksgiving and experience being fully seen for the precious and amazing beings that we truly are, it is then that we are fueled to play full out in the world and give freely of our innate gifts.