Monday, September 28, 2009

Mental Health Mondays- Maintaining Mental Health in Relationships

The Basic Lowdown of Communication in Relationships

I was inspired by Vanessa's post yesterday and would like to elaborate with some pointers on communicating in romantic relationships. Positive communication is essential to maintaing mental health in any relationship- whether it is with friends, partners, family, or yourself. I will be focussing on communicating negative emotions, as this is what most people struggle with. But bear in mind the importance of communicating when you are feeling joyous! Positivity and kindness will nourish any relationship.

Communicating negative emotions and thoughts is very difficult, but can lead to a more profound understanding and deeper bond with yourself and your partner. It is unrealistic to expect that you will never have to address a challenging issue, so it's important to be prepared to do so. There are a few steps you can take to aid communication in difficult situations. They require you to:

1. Assess Your Situation
a) Do a Preliminary Scan
of your mind/body
b) Remove yourself from the situation (optional)

2. Pinpoint Your Emotions

3. Communicate Your Feelings and Thoughts

1. a) Assessing Your Situation -> Preliminary Scan

First of all, are you safe? This is the most important thing to ask yourself. If you do not feel safe, you should remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. If you have decided that you are not in immediate physical or mental danger, do a brief body/mind scan. Ask yourself how am I feeling? Take into account your breathing, heart rate, any dizziness or nausea. If you have been holding your breath take a few seconds to inhale/exhale deeply and slowly from your stomach. Take into account feelings of uneasiness and confusing. Based on your assessment, decide whether or not you need to remove yourself from the situation or if you are ready to communicate how you feel.

b) Removing Yourself from Your Situation [optional]

If you are feeling confused or stressed out in any way, I would recommend removing yourself from the present situation. This could be done in different ways depending on who you're interacting with. Here are some things you can do or say to remove yourself from the situation:

-I need some time to think about this. Would you mind if we discussed it tomorrow?
-I need to clear my head. Would you mind going for a walk?

These may not work if you are in a physically intimate setting. If this is the case, you could excuse yourself to the washroom or go get a drink of water.

2. Pinpoint your emotions

After you have done a brief scan of how you are feeling and potentially removed yourself from the present situation, it is important to pinpoint your exact feelings. Ask yourself:

Am I feeling...


... anything else?

If you are having difficulty pin-pointing your emotions, you might need some more time to think. Don't be afraid to ask for space! It is often less damaging to take some time to reflect- even if it means keeping your partner in suspense- than trying to articulate jumbled thoughts and rushing to express yourself.

Once you have pin-pointed your emotions, look for their root. Ask yourself: Why do I feel this way? Is it something the other person said? Has the situation brought up negative memories? Do I feel personally attacked? Is the situation addressing some of my fears/worries/prejudices?

This is where the communication process becomes very tricky. Pin-pointing feelings and then communicating them requires a lot of honesty with yourself and with your partner. It's difficult to know if you're over-reacting, of if communicating how you feel will cause an unwanted outcome, hurting yourself and/or the other person. After you have pin-pointed your emotions you might not even feel the need to communicate: by communicating with yourself you may feel that your negative thoughts are something you can recover from on your own. Still, it's important to keep your partner up-to-date on what you're dealing with, so that they don't mistake a personal struggle with something they have done or said, and so they can help you help yourself if need be. More tips for understanding your internal thought process will be in next week's blog about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

3) Communicate Your Feelings and Thoughts

Once you have pin-pointed your feelings it's time to communicate them. How? Try your best to stay calm. Steady your voice and breathe deeply- don't rush. It's vital to use "I" statements: saying "I felt hurt when you said..." as opposed to "you made me feel hurt" will be less confrontational in tone. It's important to ask your partner how they feel, but don't compromise what you have to say in order to listen to them- try to maintain a mutually respectful speaking/listening alternation.

As you communicate, continue to cycle through the assess/pinpoint/communicate process. This will keep you up-to-date on how you are feeling and whether or not your discussion is addressing what needs to be addressed.

Sound overwhelming? It is, and I've barely delved into it. I hope this basic outline has been helpful... Keep reading for a more in-depth look into communicating with yourself and others, in order to maintain mental health!

- Micky

Next week's blog will be about:

Other Strategies to Enhance Communication (CBT etc) AND Possible Scenarios in Which Feelings of Negativity Need to Be Communicated


IF YOU DO NOT FEEL SAFE (from others or yourself)

Leave the potentially unsafe (mentally or physically) environment immediately. Call someone you trust, go to see them if possible. Do not isolate yourself. If no one is available, stay in a public place- go to a hospital, go to the police station. Do not be embarassed to ask for help. If you are too overwhelmed to be in public you can call a helpline.

Kids' Help Phone

Assaulted Women's helpline

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