Expressing your true self is required for an honest, close relationship. (You must have a good relationship with yourself first–see my blog on getting real with yourself ).
Once you are in full awareness of your real feelings and desires, the next step towards healthy relationships is integrated self-expression.
What is integrated self-expression? It means that you communicate outwardly what is really true internally.
Have you ever been talking to somebody and it seems like they are saying one thing, but really they are saying another? It is hard to know what they are getting at, because they have not been honest with what how they feel.
Once I was talking to a couple in my office who provide an great example of this (names have been changed):
Eleanor: From now on, I would like it if you would see the things that need to be done around the house. If feels unfair right now. (authentic)
Ben: Why don’t you just tell me what you need me to do? (authentic)
Eleanor: Well, I guess I assume that if you take ownership, you are more invested and more likely to complete them. My fear is that things won’t get done even if you agree to do it. (authentic)
Ben: Even if I offer, you don’t really have any more of a guarantee that it will get done than if you just ask. (inauthentic)
At this point they could start a debate on whether or not initiating the “to-do list” really does create more reliability. But that would miss the point, which is that Eleanor is worried and has made a request.
Ben avoids being honest about his feelings by providing a logical argument to deconstruct the basis of Eleanor’s fear. Based on what he shared later, an accurate statement would have been: “I feel defensive. Plus I wonder if your fears are 100% about me, or if they are about something else.”
Without integrity, we end up building relationships based on only parts of ourselves. We fight about unrelated topics, and never really get to the bottom of recurring arguments.
Below are some great assertiveness techniques that will help you communicate with integrity.
Expressing Yourself with Integrity: 6 Ways to Communicate with Respect and Honesty
1. Use the “I statement”
Dr. Jonathon Ross adapts the traditional “I statement” into a simple two step formula: “I feel/I want.” It seems overly simple, but is often hard to do. This formula allows you to say how you feel AND ask for what you want.
When bringing something up with your partner, follow this script:
1) “When you (briefly describe, only the facts), I feel (sad, hurt, afraid, or impatient) because I (explain the need you have that leads to this feeling). 2) “What I would like is: (describe the precise action you would like from your partner).
A good example of an “I statement” would be: “When you came home late last night, I felt afraid because if I don’t hear from you I worry something bad has happened. Please call me in the future to let me know your when you will be home.
Stay away from triggering words like “devastated” or “enraged” if you can. And make sure you don’t slip in an inadvertent “You Statement,” such as: “I feel hurt because you are so insensitive.”
2. Bring things up gently
Dr. John Gottman calls this “soft start-up.” How you begin expressing yourself will set the tone.
For example, if you come home with a headache after a bad day at work to fighting kids and a husband who asks “what’s for dinner,” soft start-up sounds like this: “I don’t know, and I don’t feel very well. It would be great if you’d take care of dinner,” rather than “How should I know? Why do I always have to cook?”
3. Make statements instead of asking questions
As Dr. Gay Hendricks points out, many people habitually use questions as veiled statements. It is important to look beneath the surface of questions to find hidden statements. Your goal is to reveal, not conceal. So verbalize what you really want.
For example, instead of saying: “Haven’t we talked about this enough for one night?” say instead: “I am feeling tired and would like to finish this conversation tomorrow.”
4. Learn healthy complaining
Complaining can be constructive. In fact, constantly stifling complaints causes what Dr. John Gottman calls “negative sentiment override.” If you stifle complaints, your negative thoughts about your partner will overwhelm the positive ones.
In the service of honesty and preventing resentments, it is ok to complain if it is respectful, clear, specific, and immediate. For example, it’s ok to say “You said you would cook dinner tonight but you are still watching tv.” But don’t say: “You didn’t cook one meal the whole time I put you through medical school.”
5. Find the life dreams behind conflict:
In conflict, there is usually a life dream that is being threatened. To be fully seen by your partner, identify and express what your life dream is, and how that impacts on your current request, issue, problem.
For example: “The reason why I argue with you about taking the kids to McDonald’s is because one of my life dreams is to have a healthy life together.” Put this way, it is easier for your partner to see where you are coming from, rather than feeling defensive which stalls further understanding.
6. Avoid Negatives unless they are true:
Dr. Gay Hendricks points out that false negatives such as “I can’t” and “never” are seriously overused. “I can’t” is usually just another way of saying “I don’t want to” or “I have not learned how to.”
Also, using “never” is almost always untruthful–for example “You never help me with anything.” Take responsibility for your own limit setting, and stay truthful when expressing frustrations.
Good Luck with these. And let me know how you find these in the comments below!