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Jul 25, 2008

Soul strokes

The most important thing you can do to keep your relationship alive is to listen to your partner. We all want to be heard. It doesn't mean we have to agree with each other, but it does mean that we are willing to listen with an open heart. Unfortunately, this simple and profound gift is often severely neglected or complicated. In this excerpt from her book, The Couple's Comfort Book, Jennifer Louden provides straightforward guidelines to help you connect with your partner on a daily basis through clear communication.

What is Soul Strokes?
Soul strokes are designed to help with that nasty gender problem, "He never talks" or "She never listens." Soul strokes are NOT about problem solving or about fighting. Soul strokes are about being heard and validated, without having to agree or solve anything.

The most effective way to nurture a relationship is to communicate regularly and openly. Or as award winning writer and mother of six Tamera Smith Allred says in her book, On the Homefront, "... we try to spend 30 minutes a day, every day, talking and sharing our feelings alone. When we are talking we do not try to fix, change, or challenge the other person. We seek to listen, to understand the other's feelings. We have learned that the deepest longing of the human heart is to be heard and understood." Couples that thrive together spend time alone talking on a daily basis. Yet studies show most couples spend less than thirty minutes a week talking about intimate subjects together. Nothing destroys a relationship faster than lack of communication.

If you are muttering to yourself, "I don't have time for this mushy nonsense," consider the question - How important is your relationship to you? Is it worth an hour of your time a week? Fifteen minutes a day? You find time for exercise, TV, and countless other things. Find time for your relationship.

Use soul strokes for keeping in touch daily, and for dealing with the "I want to talk but he (or she) doesn't" blues. Used regularly, it is the most effective tool in this book for staying in touch and building intimacy.

What you need and where to begin
You'll need:

  • Time alone.
  • Patience to practice.
  • A timer that doesn't tick loudly.
Time required:
  • Anywhere from five minutes to however long you wish to speak.

When to do it:

  • If you feel lonely in the relationship.
  • If you often find yourself complaining, "We never talk about anything!"
  • If you believe honest communication between men and women is fundamentally impossible.
  • When you are so wrapped up in your job, you walk right past your lover when you go to meet him for lunch. Or you are so busy with the kids, she comes home from work, and you automatically yell at her to do her homework before she goes out to play.

What to do
Below is a six step plan for improving communication. Don't skip a step. It may seem complex at first, but it will quickly become second nature. There is an overview of the steps at the end of the chapter. Use that for quick review until the process becomes your own.
Step 1
Pick the right time and place. A discussion should not be broached as one person is rushing around the house searching for the keys and is hyperventilating about being late for an appointment. The right time means no one is exhausted, doing something else, angry, or otherwise distracted. The right place means you can give each other your full attention and open your hearts without being interrupted or inhibited.

Step 2
Show up. No communication is possible if both partners aren't present. This is what is meant by having a "conscious relationship." Showing up is hard work. Before you begin, take a few deep breaths, concentrating on breathing out your worries and distractions.

Concentrate on staying present while your partner is talking. Your attention might wander, you will want to yawn, or squirm, or be stricken with a sudden burning desire to jump up and get some ice cream or wash the dog or organize your sock drawer. These are all internal indicators that what is being talked about is hitting a chord with you. Take a deep breath and focus on your partner.

Watch your language. Soul strokes are not about fighting, blaming, or problem solving. Watch out for statements that point a finger at your partner. Stay away from "you" statements ("You always do that and it drives me crazy"). Stick to "I" statements about how you feel.

Empathy. Before you begin, close your eyes and ask yourself, "How does my partner feel right now?" Open your heart and see the upcoming discussion from his or her point of view. Whenever you feel yourself getting bored or resisting what they are saying, close your eyes and ask yourself "How does my partner feel right now?."

Step 3
Pick a subject. What is happening in your life right now is the favorite, but anything goes as long as it isn't about blaming.

Stay on the subject and talk about the same one. One partner states the subject to be discussed. Then the other person restates the subject the way they understand it. If necessary, keep doing this back and forth until you both agree on what you are talking about. Stick to the subject only. This step is important because huge globs of frustration are produced in conversations between lovers because of subject skipping -- no one feels heard if one person talks about one subject, then his or her partner responds by talking about something completely different.

Step 4
Start with an appreciation. After getting clear on what you are talking about but before you start in on what you are going to say, state something you appreciate about your partner today. "I appreciate you taking the kids out for afternoon," "I appreciate you kissing me good morning," "I appreciate the way you smiled at me in the car."

Note: It is wonderful to start any conversation or discussion with a tender, thankful statement.

Step 5
Have your say. Use your time to say anything you wish about the subject at hand. Express yourself. Luxuriate in being heard.

The person listening does not interrupt. The person listening pays attention. This can be very difficult, yet it is the most important part of the process. Stay present and maintain eye contact. Soul strokes do not work if one partner is filing fingernails, flipping TV channels, sighing repeatedly, or finishing sentences for the other.

When the time is up, switch roles. The partner who has been listening now receives the same amount of time to talk about his or her side of the same subject. Try not to stray into other areas.

You can continue switching back and forth, reacting to what has been said by your partner in the previous round.

Step 6
End with a big hug. Even if you don't feel like it. The aim is to say, "I still love you" even if I don't feel very loving in this moment.

In part two of this excerpt from her book, The Couple's Comfort Book, Jennifer Louden provides straightforward guidelines to help you connect with your partner on a daily basis through clear communication. (Read part one of this article here!)

The key points
To sum up (from part one):

  • Pick the right time and place. Not when you are exhausted or distracted.
  • Show up. Take some deep breaths. Watch your language. Not blaming or problem solving, but expressing and being heard. Empathize.
  • Make sure you are both talking about the same subject.
  • State something you appreciate about your partner before you begin.
  • Have your say. Listen without interruption and with full attention.
  • Big hug. (Kisses are good too.)

  • Can't talk?
    There are times when one person can't think of anything to say during his or her time. There are several things you can do: Stick to non-threatening subjects. Be patient and be an example by opening your heart up first and taking a risk. Sometimes, one person has to give more, a lot more, before the other person can start. Use the suggestions below to jump-start the conversation.

    What to talk about
    For daily or weekly check-ins, here are some suggestions:

    Many couples use soul strokes around the daily subject of "What Happened in My Life Today," sticking to just that, not getting into complaining or fighting.

    Tell your lover five specific things that make him or her a pleasure to live with or three things he or she did today you cherished.

    To combat the "I want to talk but he/she doesn't" blues, use the sentence stems below. Finish the sentences by facing each other and verbally giving your answers. Say whatever comes into your mind, as quickly as possible, without self-criticism or censorship. The less you ponder, the more easily you can get past the obvious and into more personal revelations. Accept that you will feel resistance. You will feel you have nothing more to say. Keep going.

    You could help me talk about my feelings more by...

    • If I weren't concerned about what you thought...
    • Sometimes, I become frighten when communicating with you because...
    • One of the things I would like you to know about me is...
    • One of the things I would like you to appreciate about me is..
    • If I were more able to let you see how much I love you...
    • If I were able to be more open about my feelings...
    • I've noticed recently about myself...

    Keep doing it. Make a shared goal to have a soul stroking talk every day for a week.

    The more you do it, the easier it gets. Don't give in to boredom and status quo! Seize the relationship!

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