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Does fear derail your communication?
How to take your most important conversations from failure to success
If you’re in a relationship, or have ever been in one, you know that communication is key to its success. Numerous studies have identified communication (or lack thereof) as one of the top reasons for couples therapy, as well as one of the primary reasons for break-up and divorce. In fact, most couples that come to LIFE Marriage Retreats cite poor communication in their high stakes, conflict-based conversations as a key contributor to the breakdown of their relationship.
There are many tools to help improve communication in a relationship – but perhaps the most important thing that couples need to understand about healthy and productive communication is that any skills and tools must rest on a strong foundation of principles to be effective. In other words, the crucial component lies not in simply changing our communication strategies, but also in changing our hearts.
Fear and Potato Salad
Imagine you make a potato salad for an upcoming neighborhood block party. You make it the day before, using high quality, fresh ingredients – just like your grandmother used to. But when you walk into the kitchen the following day to grab the salad, to your dismay you realize that you left it out overnight, and it’s been baking in the hot sun for hours. What do you have now? That’s right – you have rotten potato salad. It may look fine, but if anyone eats it, they run the risk of getting sick.
So what do you do? How can you reconstitute the spoiled potato salad? Can you slice more boiled eggs, and neatly layer them on top with a sprig of parsley? No, because the rotten potato salad will overcome whatever you lay on top of it in your attempt to make it pretty.
The point is, sometimes we all have rotten potato salad in our hearts as a result of past experiences that have caused pain, and a fear of repeating those negative experiences. In our high-stakes communications with our partner, we often fear that they’re not truly hearing us. We resent their lack of validation and empathy. We feel hurt and disrespected by their unkind words, or their body language. We hate not finding lasting resolution to never-ending issues.
In almost every case, both partners have developed these fears and resentments, and have become hypersensitive to every perceived slight or slip that the other person makes. This typically results in both people walking on eggshells around each other, and avoiding meaningful conversation for fear of another conflict.
The Antidote to Fear: Principle-Based Safety in Conversations
So if fear is the enemy of healthy communication, then what is the antidote? Safety. The more you seek to help your partner feel safe in conversations, the more likely you are to find elegant and mutually satisfying solutions to conflict. When we feel safe, we can talk about anything in healthy ways. Conversely, when we feel fear, even a conversation about something as non-threatening as the weather is apt to spiral out of control.
When most people arrive at LIFE Marriage Retreats, they have unhealthy doses of fear and resentment (rotten potato salad!) in their hearts. Because we all process our words and behaviors through whatever is in our hearts, the key to their success will be in bringing principles that represent safety back to their center. Here are a few of those key principles:
Principles in Action: Kari and Vincent
A couple that recently came to one of our retreats, Kari and Vincent, had been experiencing a series of challenges that created distance and frustration between them. Communication that once felt easy and connected now felt hostile and dangerous. It was a classic case of rotten potato salad: feelings of resentment were coming out in everything that they said to each other – and fear was at the root of their communication.
As the retreat progressed, Kari and Vincent learned powerful communication skills and tools, but more importantly, as they brought some of the principles mentioned above into their hearts, the skills became energized and empowered.
For Vincent, accountability was key. He had convinced himself that their relationship breakdown was mostly about Kari’s resentment and inability to move past their problems, but realized that he had his own resentment issues to work through. He also realized that he needed to focus on being more patient, and needs to focus on understanding her perspective.
Humility was number one for Kari. She realized that moving forward, she needs to recognize her own mistakes, and truly listen to Vincent when he has things to say. She also committed to being kinder, and showing Vincent the graciousness, compassion and respect that he not only deserves, but that she also yearns from him.
About LIFE Marriage Retreats
LIFE Marriage Retreats has been a leading marriage retreat in North America for over a decade. As a team, they have authored 8 Principles: One Couple’s Journey From Darkness to Light and are the creators of Rescuing Trust, a transformative online video training course designed to rebuild trust in any relationship. Their innovative approach to marriage intervention utilizes training, experiential learning and a highly specialized form of counseling to transform relationships.