Re-flect Rather than De-flect, or How to Cultivate Intimacy
Updated: May 12, 2019
By Mitzi Brown
So often in relational conflict our instinct is self-protection rather than self-reflection. This instinct results in the “yeah, but” mentality – you know, when the first words out of our mouths are “yeah, but you do ….”
Probably somewhere along the line most of us have done this. If we have not said the words aloud, in all likelihood, we were thinking them. And thinking them still affects our attitude and prohibits self-reflection.
While nobody wants to hear criticism or feel blamed for the relational problems, the reaction of deflection is not life-giving for any relationship.
Wait. We are looking for intimacy, right? We want closeness, trust, etc.? Just checking. Because if you’re looking for relationship-destruction, then carry on with that deflection stuff.
But if you want intimacy, keep reading. Nobody likes criticism. Honestly, inside of the criticism we hear, there may be a grain of something we might actually benefit from working on.
Let’s think about the goal of our relationships for a moment. We would all, or most of us, agree that we want closeness. We want trust. We want intimacy. We want to feel loved. We want to feel supported. We want to know that the person closest to us in life is for not against us. All or most of that resonate? If that is not what we are looking for, then we are not looking for intimacy, we are looking for someone to use at our convenience if I might be so blunt.
When we deflect rather than reflect, the message sent is that the other party is messed up and I’m on the road to high holy perfection. We’re a lot like those sons of thunder, James and John fighting over who gets to have the place of honor next to Jesus in heaven. Ouch. In reality, we have a heart condition that is not conducive to healthy, trusting, vulnerable, heart-connected relationship. That heart condition will not produce intimacy. Oh, it will be productive all right – so if separation, divorce, wounded feelings, relational distance, and distrust are what you’re after … well, you get the point. Humility and self-reflection breed intimacy and closeness.
Cultivating an environment where all of those positive relational qualities flourish takes intention and effort. Here are some of the things we can do intentionally to cultivate trust, closeness, intimacy, feeling loved, and supported in relationships. If the person you are involved with is unavailable for these, it just might be a great big red flag.
Speak with kindness and gentleness to one another. Say please and thank you. Ask for your partner’s opinion and expect to get it. Be genuinely interested in what they want. Be complimentary as often as you can – even when it means searching for something to be complimentary about. #kindness #gentleness
Refrain from criticism, contemptuous talk, defensive talk, and shutting down (or stonewalling). These are four relationship death traps identified by John and Julie Gottman, marriage research experts, as forms of interaction that destroy relationships. How detrimental are they? Well, the Gottman’s call these four tactics the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Yeah. #fourhorsemen
Learn to listen well. Often, we are already formulating a response or defense before our partner gets half way through speaking. (Deflection is a defensive response.) Cultivate the habit of listening deeply – not just to the words that are being spoken, but for the emotion that your partner is feeling. Often harsh words are a symptom of feeling threatened, alone, disrespected, or hurt in some way. Look for those feelings that are underneath and ask about what your partner is feeling if he or she is not expressing it clearly. Be sure to validate their feelings. That does not mean you agree with their feelings; it does mean you accept their feelings are genuinely being felt by them. When we care about others, we want to understand their hurts, frustrations and empathize. We want them to feel heard and important. Reflecting what they say and feel helps your partner believe you care and have understood them. #listenwell #identifythefeeling #seekfirsttounderstand #James1:19
Learn to communicate your own desires and feelings without blaming your partner. This means speaking assertively – not aggressively – there is a difference. Assertiveness is communicating honestly about our own desires and feelings. Aggressiveness is imposing our desires and feelings on others. Assertive speaking might sound like this, “I would really like to have Chinese food tonight. That would be really satisfying for me. I wonder what you would like?” Aggressive speaking might be, “I want Chinese food, and I’m hungry now. Could you get a move on?” Assertiveness invites others in. Aggressiveness pushes others out. There’s no intimacy in aggression. #assertivespeaking
Great relationships are made up of two people who seek to out-serve one another. If my mind set is on how much I can get, my mind is set wrong. Happy couples are excited when they get to do something for one another – whether it is helping in the kitchen, the yard, with the kids, with dinner, leaving a love note on the bathroom mirror, or offering to do an unpleasant take just because you know the other is not fond of it. Serving your partner in their love language is key. (The five love languages are receiving gifts, words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, and acts of service. You and your other half can take the free assessment to find out your love languages here https://www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/). #lovelanguages #Ephesians5:21
Ask for forgiveness. One of the greatest acts of humility is admitting wrong doing and asking for forgiveness. Running a close second might be granting forgiveness. These are essential skills and practices in intimate relationships in which we want to grow deep in trust. Take responsibility for your own mess and practice the gift of seeking forgiveness.
Reflect rather than deflect. And last but not least, in great relationships, partners consistently listen when there is a complaint and reflect on how they can do better. They consider how their speech, actions or behaviors have affected the other party and because of deep care and concern, make a concerted effort to change the offending behavior. Reflection allows for personal growth. And me is the only person I have control over. #reflectratherthandeflect #Matthew7:3-5
Of course, changing the way we interact in relationship with others is difficult. It takes a lot of practice. Sometimes we need help. That is what relationship counseling is all about – receiving help, correction, insights and skills that help us connect on the level we really desire.