If you’re married, have you ever pondered the evolution (or de-evolution) of your relationship from an emotional and communication standpoint? Have you ever wondered how you went from hanging onto your soon-to-be spouse’s every word to having a knee-jerk reaction to everything s/he now says? It’s so easy to be aware of every little annoyance inflicted by the other person. And yet, that awareness never solves anything. So how can self-awareness improve your relationship if other-awareness can’t?
Words like “improve,” “grow,” and “evolve” are really just positive expressions for “change.” As we all know, the only thing consistent in life is change. But the defining element for the nature and quality of that change is awareness. Without it, change has no direction, no higher purpose.
Being aware of what is going on outside of you is far easier than being aware of what is going on inside of you. What others say and do, how they say and do it; traffic; weather; politics; love; hatred; kindness; war. Who has time to self-examine when there is so much to focus on “out there”? And by focusing “out there” you’re opening yourself up to being judgmental and placing blame.
The problem with blame is that, if your focus on the outside, then your power evaporates. You can’t change anything because you have no stake in the game. You become and remain a victim.
Having no responsibility means you also have no power. And having no power means you can’t affect change when and where you want.
As a victim in your own life and relationships, you retreat into defensiveness to protect yourself from a world that you assume is against you. To borrow a term from social psychology, you make a fundamental attribution error. The other person, in your mind, behaves out of ill will toward you. You jump to conclusions, make assumptions, and behave accordingly.
Before long, you’re looking at a marriage trampled by the Four Horsemen of the (Marriage) Apocalypse.
And all this because your awareness is pointed in the wrong direction.
So how can self-awareness help improve your relationship?
A few things about self-awareness first….
Self-awareness is a dimension of emotional intelligence, which is all about recognizing and managing your own emotions and helping others to do the same. Self-awareness is a moment-to-moment perception of what is going on in your own body, mind, feelings, and behavior. It involves the recognition of the interconnectedness of everything that comes from and affects you.
How can self-awareness help when your relationship is struggling and you don’t know how to fix it? Let’s start with what drives everything in relationships: communication.
When couples start fighting and distancing themselves from their former level of intimacy, there is inevitably a breakdown of communication at the core. One or both partners aren’t feeling heard and/or aren’t getting their needs met.
In the daily rush of life, it becomes easy to throw blame onto the other person. You never…you always…why can’t you…you don’t care…If I mattered, you would….Far quicker and easier to go that route than to check in with yourself and start digging for answers.
But digging for answers is at the heart of self-awareness. And once those answers reveal themselves, they stand at the ready to assist in moments of tension and negativity.
Consider the fact that “not feeling heard” is the fundamental issue of much marital discontent. What goes into feeling heard? What does that communication style look like?
One of the reasons that working with counselors and life coaches can be so effective is that active listening is foundational to their practices. If you have ever worked with a counselor or life coach, you will recognize the impact of eye contact, body language, and open-ended questions. You will notice, if you think about it, that the sessions are about you, and not what the professional projects onto you.
In a marriage, it can become easy to lose your grip on this important commitment in your communication style. And the only way to lose your grip is to lose (or never have) self-awareness.
If communication is at the heart of a healthy relationship, how can self-awareness help?
Getting in touch with your own emotions isn’t as easy as you might think. And recognizing what emotions are at bat and what emotions are on-deck can be tricky, especially when tempers are flaring.
But you have your body to deliver powerful signals and information to you. Flushed cheeks, quickened heart rate and respiration, tension in your muscles. These are all ways your body informs you of underlying emotional information.
When you are self-aware, you don’t let that physical, sensory information go by without acknowledging it. You ask it to lead you to the underlying emotion. Are you angry? Afraid? Sad? Worried?
Once you pinpoint the underlying emotion that is manifesting in physical form, you can tap into the history behind it. Have I experienced this fear before? What was happening in my life at that time? Is this really the same circumstance, or is it just a trigger to those old feelings and fears?
You may also recognize belief systems, assumptions, and other derivatives of your personal history popping up to shape your reactions and behaviors. Self-awareness empowers you to own those influencers. It also helps you to separate their message from the message you are receiving from your partner.
By dedicating time to the process of becoming self-aware, you (re)shape your communication. You are no longer a victim, but a facilitator of the change you want to see.
It doesn’t always feel good to revisit those old wounds whose scars like to get attention. But when you own them and take responsibility for how you live with them, you automatically shift the responses you get. You control your own behavior, soften the mood, and decrease the intensity between you and your partner.
All this because you took the time for self-examination.
All this because you learned and owned your own story.
All this because you became the change you wanted to see in your relationship.
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