Communication Needs to Improve

Dear Neil:  I really hurt my boyfriend of three years by being mean to him, treating him poorly, acting like I didn’t need or love him and generally not being responsive to what he said he wanted.
I did this because he was so lacking in romance, and because I wanted to be taken care of by someone, and he wasn’t doing a good job of either.

As a result, he left me for someone else, which hurt me very deeply, and has also taught me how much I care for and love him. So I called him and apologized for my mean behavior, and he came back to me.  But we haven’t been able to talk about what occurred, what we learned from it, and what it means to our relationship in the long term, and as a result, I feel very unresolved and incomplete about the whole thing—not to mention that I’m still wanting more romance and nurturing than I’m getting.

Do you have any suggestions about how we can talk about this sensitive and touchy subject without it exploding on us?

Hopeful In Manhattan


Dear Hopeful:  Try doing the following communication exercise together. Sit facing each other while holding hands, turn off all distractions such as the telephone and the TV, make sure that the kids are asleep or otherwise well occupied, and take turns answering the following questions completely:

  • In our relationship, I have been protecting myself by…
  • I have contributed to the problems between us by…
  • The problems in our relationship that would make the biggest difference to me if we could solve are…
  • It hurt me when…
  • I’m still hurt about…
  • I’m angry about…
  • I have never acknowledged or thanked you for…
  • I would like to apologize for…
  • If we were going to solve the problems in our relationship about…, I would need to… I would need for you to…
  • The most important things you could do that would help me to be closer to you are…
  • Some of the things you have requested that I will commit to do are…
  • Romance to me means…
  • A perfect romantic evening to me would include…
  • I would love it if you would nurture/spoil me more by…
  • I would be willing to nurture and spoil you a lot more in the ways you are requesting if…
  • Please forgive me for…
  • I forgive you for…
  • I am becoming aware…
  • I love that we…
  • I love that you…

The ground rules for this exercise are:  no alcohol while doing the exercise (your answers will be less reliable and will be trusted less); no blaming or finger pointing; no defending  yourself, no false answers and no false promises.

Learn to ask for what you want—and say how you feel—more effectively, and give up manipulating, punishing, strong-arming, withdrawing and mean personal attacks.  The heart of a relationship is about speaking your truths without blaming, hurting or alienating the person you want to be close to.

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