By Joseph Losi, Certified Emotionally Focused Therapist and relationship coach
© Joseph Losi, 2022 www.josephlosi.com
Communication that positively connects us to others is central to healthy, fulfilling relationships of all kinds. Humans are inherently social animals, and our prime drive is to bond with others. If we are not safe in our relationships, especially with our most important people, we experience all manner of mental and physical distress.
So, how do we create those bonded connections with others? I have combined the basic tenets of Emotionally Focused Therapy with the powerful communication tools found in Michael Sorensen’s book “I Hear You,” to arrive at the ABC’s of healthy relationship, a mnemonic for a set of strategies that can greatly enhance personal and professional relationships. I often refer to them as “The Triple A, Double B, Single C.” Try these out in your relationships and see what shifts!
The Triple A
Assume nothing. Walk into a conversation without assuming you know what the other person is thinking or feeling. We cannot read one another’s mind, even when we know each other well.
Attune to all emotions. Attuning means acknowledging. If your person plays a C Sharp, play it right back to them. If you hear ”I’m feeling sad right now,” attuning might look like “Yeah. You’re sad. I can feel that.” If someone is angry, “Yes, I can see how angry you are.”
Misattunement occurs when a person’s feelings are not heard, seen, and acknowledged. It can look like “Really? Why are you sad about that?” or “Don’t feel bad!!” Or refocusing the topic onto someone else’s experience:: “I knew this person once who would get really angry when xyz happened.” Misattunement is invalidating and creates a sense that we’re alone or “missed.”
Affirm all thoughts: Acknowledge a person’s thoughts. If you hear “I really don’t believe you are being honest with me!” respond with: “Okay, I hear you. You don’t believe I’m being honest.” Avoid invalidating a person’s beliefs or thoughts with something like ”You are nuts, I am telling you the truth.” Taking this defensive path can lead to an escalating cycle of “see me, hear me, see me, hear me” and no one feeling heard, seen, or good.
A note about using the Triple A: You don’t have to believe what is being shared with you. Hold your retort, give the other person the benefit of the doubt and continue to use Triple A with tentative openness and curiosity and acceptance.
The Double B
Breathe to slow down. In relationship it’s easy for our triggers to be hit. Just a few words might make us feel defensive, agitated, perhaps angry, our minds go offline. While working through the Triple A, if you feel triggered, breathe into your body to slow yourself down.
Just a few breaths can help you get your rational mind back on line. If it takes longer, take longer. “Hey I need to stop talking for a little while now. Let’s pick this up in an hour.” Indicate that you do want to pick up the conversation to avoid creating a sense of abandonment.
Be curious. Being curious is a powerful way of signaling we care and want to get to know and understand the other person. If your partner shares sadness, be curious: ”I can feel you’re sad….can you tell me what’s going on?” Or if your colleague expresses anger or frustration—at you or a situation: “I can tell you’re frustrated…Help me understand a bit more about your frustration,” or even, “What would you like to have happen that would be different?”
The Single C
It is likely that you will be toggling back and forth from AAA to BB and back again, all the time resting on single C.
Cease offering Solutions. Hold onto your brilliant solution until invited to give one. How many times have you shared how you’re feeling about a challenging situation and the first response is “Have you tried XYZ?” or “I think you should do XYZ.” We’ve all been there, and we’ve all defaulted to offering solutions. When we fail to acknowledge how someone is thinking or feeling and go right to solutions, we can make them feel not smart, not good enough, like they’re not doing the right thing. And, simply not heard, especially when our solutions are way off the mark. After a few good rounds of Triple A and Double B, one might offer: ”That sounds pretty rough, are you open to hearing a suggestion for what I would do in that situation?”
When we adhere to The Triple A, Double B, Single C, we open the doors to connection by creating space for and honoring all that a person thinks and feels. This builds trust, and we might just find ourselves moving with greater ease and closeness in our relationships.
Additional Tips When Using the Triple A, Double B, Single C:
- If you need to step away from a conversation to gather yourself, avoid ruminating and do something that engages the body: wash the dishes, stretch, take a walk around the block.
- It’s okay to go to bed with tension or an unresolved issue, as you’ll likely be in a better space to practice the ABCs of relationship. The noble belief that “we can’t go to sleep mad at each other” is misguided. Sleep is powerfully restorative, and we often figure out things in our sleep.
- Remember that time is on our side. Most relationship stuff never has to be figured out immediately.
- Remember that we’ll rarely be in 100% agreement all the time within our relationships. We don’t have to live in perfect harmony, we simply have to slow down and accept that some issues just won’t get 100% agreement—and that’s okay.
- We really can’t change other people—all we can change is ourselves and how we respond. When we let others be who they are and where they’re at, we give ourselves room to do the same.