05/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Ask Maddisen: How To Resolve Communication Blocks

ASK MADDISEN is a weekly column in which the popular International Life Coach Maddisen K. Krown, M.A., answers your questions about love, relationships, career, self care, and other juicy topics.

Dear Maddisen:
I have trouble communicating with my significant other, and it seems like we just argue and don't accomplish anything. How can we reconnect?
Signed, VC

Dear VC,

Excellent question, and so clearly communicated! Rest assured, there are paths to loving connection, and it is possible for you to be in loving and respectful relationship and conversation with your partner.

Before you begin practicing the specific steps of successful communication, let's look at the ground rules you must both honor in order to make the steps work for you. Following these ground rules will create a foundation that strongly nourishes healthy and productive communication between you.

Ground rule #1: It takes two, it takes intention
Both of you must be motivated and committed to moving out of senseless and destructive arguing and into respectful and loving conversation and constructive problem resolution. Are you both willing to meet each other with this intention?

Ground rule #2: Acceptance & responsibility
Gently and with self respect, accept how you feel and accept the situation you are in. Accept that you are in this situation to learn more about yourself, and to learn how to be more loving, honoring, and forgiving first with yourself, and then with your partner.

Know that by accepting responsibility for your inner choices and your outer choices, you have just become more empowered to make new choices that will serve your well being and your partner's well being.

For some of you, this may be a new approach to acceptance and responsibility. To liberate yourself into your true nature of love and evolution, you must work with yourself with love and respect, and not with blame, shame, or punishment. Why? Because the way you treat yourself as you go through this issue with your partner, is the real issue. Move into respect for yourself and respect for your partner, and the entire experience should turn around and improve significantly.

Ground rule #3: Willingness to speak your truth
You must be courageously honest in your communication with each other. Why? Because this approach assumes that you care enough to tell each other your truth. From a place of respect for your own and your partner's well being, you must be willing to agree and to disagree. You must be willing to stand up for and speak about what is vital to your well being and happiness. This type of honesty can be frightening, however, it may very likely be the catalyst for your awakening, liberation, and the healing of your broken connection.

Using the three ground rules as your foundation, here are four steps to practice to accomplish successful communicate with your significant other.

Step 1: Observe
What are you observing? Describe the issue you are choosing to be upset about.

Step 2: Feel
What are you feeling? Express the feelings you are experiencing as a result of this issue.

Step 3: Need
What do you need? Share how you would prefer to feel and what you sense is necessary to feel resolved with this issue.

Step 4: Request
What resolve do you seek? Describe the action or solution you are seeking, and respectfully request this of your partner.

If your partner does not agree to the request, then ask your partner to do the four steps, with the intent to find a solution that works for you both, and that ultimately gets you back on the same track, heading together in a common direction. When, with mutual respect and the intent to find resolution, you follow the ground rules and practice these four steps, you should experience the overall outcome you are seeking, which is healthy and fulfilling partnership.

To support your practice of this approach, let's look at an example that is fairly common among couples.

Let's say that Pat and Jasmine (I'm using fictional names) have been a couple for 2 years and jointly own their house. Pat has been handling all of their financial responsibilities for that entire time, meaning he tracks and manages the money, deposits, pays the bills, etc. In one of our weekly coaching sessions, Pat shares lots of frustration and even anger about this situation. Pat wants Jasmine to be more involved with their finances, to care more, and to share more responsibility. But the only time he has brought up the subject with Jasmine has been when something has gone wrong, like a check bounced, or a balance went under the minimum. And this has resulted only in anger, arguing, and hurt feelings. So, I ask Pat if he's ready to move into resolution with this issue and how he wants that to look, teach him the three ground rules and the four step communication method, which Pat then commits to practice with Jasmine before our next session. Here's how it goes...

Pat and Jasmine agree to work within the three ground rules, and state that they are both committed to resolution in this area. From a centered and respectful place, Pat begins the communication process.

Step 1: Observe
Jasmine, what I'm observing is that I am the only one who is actively involved in managing and caring for our finances. I manage our money, track our expenses, take care of deposits, pay the bills, and I also have to be on alert because sometimes you overdraw from checking, and then we have to pay penalties on top of that.

Step 2: Feel
This makes me feel like I'm all alone when it comes to managing our money. I feel like you don't care as much as I do, and this makes me feel so frustrated and angry. Actually, I feel abandoned, I feel hurt and sometimes I just lose all hope about our financial future.

Step 3: Need
I need to feel that we are in this together, that we care equally about our financial health and financial growth. I need for us to work together on the finances, and share the responsibilities of managing and tracking and paying bills. I need us working together on this.

Step 4: Request
I usually deposit checks and pay bills twice a month, and I use Quicken to do that and to manage our accounts. I am requesting that you and I start doing the bill pay together. That we agree on the time we can do this together, put it in our calendars, and do it together. And afterward, we can reward ourselves, like going to a movie together or grabbing a bite to eat together.

Jasmine agrees. And then gives herself the gift of walking through the four step process too. She tells Pat that she has observed him being in charge of their financial matters. She has felt guilty about this, but at the same time, sensed that Pat wanted to have control. And she has felt afraid to hurt his pride by getting involved. She needs to feel that she is contributing to their financial well being, and she wants to be more involved in decisions around money. She want to start doing the management and bill paying with Pat, and requests that he be very patient and loving with her, and take the time to explain things she doesn't understand. Pat agrees.

And that's how it works. Practice, practice, practice these simple steps. Soon they will become habit, and soon you will be experience more harmony with your significant other.

The four step approach is derived from Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg's model of Nonviolent Communication. And the actors reading this may also see a resemblance to the scene preparation method - I am, I feel, I need, I want.

Conflict is just a pattern, a habit that you have the power to break. There may be a certain aliveness you feel when in conflict with each other, but aliveness is truly not served when stress and unhappiness are the end result. If you need a little drama, watch the soaps or reality TV!

So, dear VC, may this new practice create movement in your loving partnership, movement into a more aware and responsible way of communicating and connecting with each other. Mutually set your intentions for healthy communication. Practice these new habits that support cooperation rather than competition. This is the way of the new earth.

Your Personal Life Coach, Maddisen

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