How To Talk To The People Around You
Are you having mood swings and finding everyone around you irritating?
Is your partner confused by the surges of anger because of a minor issue that you might have ignored previously?
Are you feeling rising impatience and growling like a bear, whether aloud or silently?
Why does no one understand how you feel and just get out of your way?
If only this were easy!
How often has an attempt to explain how you feel about something devolved into an argument or an accusation slinging match?
Good communication skills allow us to engage with others so that we can be heard and understood, and to hear and understand them as well.
This blog series is about how to communicate well with people around you in general and about the particular challenges of talking about what it is like to go through the menopausal transition in particular.
Why are there few conversations about menopause?
Menopause is a challenging time for most women. Not only are we undergoing physical changes caused by fluctuations and eventual dip in hormones, but we can also experience severe mood swings as well as feelings of sadness and loneliness. When we don’t share how we feel, it just becomes worse; we suffer in silence.
In our youth-obsessed culture, women are sent the message that they are valued for their youthful looks, sexiness, and the ability to bear children. When our bodies begin to lose the appearance of youth, we fear how society will now begin to see us. The stereotypes for angry, ugly menopausal women abound in cultural references. This stereotype is not you, nor should you accept it. People fear change so you need to communicate well to help both yourself and others to accept the changes that are happening to your body and to find your true value in your essence.
Nobody talks about menopause, or almost nobody.
Only now is the media starting to address this issue as well-known celebrities begin to enter menopause or talk about it openly. Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey are two examples of women who openly talked about their menopause. Thankfully, menopause is starting to come out of the shadows.
Women sometimes find talking about going through this change, both difficult and uncomfortable. Menopause can cause embarrassing issues such as urinary leakage, vaginal dryness, and loss of sexual desire. These are not easy subjects to talk about, but talk about them we must!
How to talk about menopause
We need to help others around us to understand the particular difficulties that we are going through. It seems unfair that, in addition to everything else, we need to figure out ways to help others understand us! Research shows that men’s awareness of the menopausal transition may influence how their partner copes with it. So, However, if we want to be understood, we must communicate well with those around us. Communication is a skill that can be learned.
How to talk, so others listen?
We are going to discuss a very effective communication technique called Non-Violent Communication, created by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. In his book, Dr. Rosenberg advocates a 4 step approach to communicating so that others keep an open heart and mind to what you have to say:
- Statement of feeling.
- Statement of need
To clarify how this works, let us take an all-too-common situation as an example:
Your partner leaves a dirty cup on the table. You have told them about this a million times, and they continue to ignore such a simple thing. It makes you angry. Your mood swings are making things even worse. You are feeling unheard and unloved.
How do you convey how you are feeling to your partner?
The Non-Violent Communication Approach
The non-violent communication four-step approach goes like this:
1- I saw
When you need to communicate about a particular incident or a general feeling, you should state it as a neutral description or observation; NOT as a judgment, accusation, or evaluation. You must not engage your own analysis or interpretation of why something did or did not happen. In other words, state an objective fact without any subjective filters. Describe.
When you do this, be careful about your tone of voice and your body language. (Refer to our blog on communications skills & barriers for more information).
In our example, after you calm down, you would say something like:
“Honey, I saw that the cup you drank from yesterday was on the table this morning.”
This is a statement of fact, not a judgment (tone is very important here. You must not sound angry). You should not say something like: “You always leave your dirty things around for me to pick up”, which would sound to your partner as a judgment or criticism. Just keep it to an observation.
2- I feel
Next, you would explain your feeling calmly. This is about you, not them. At this stage, you are explaining your feeling but not accusing them of creating them. Feelings are not perceptions. Don’t start talking about what you think they meant or assume you know their intentions. The only thing you can really describe is your own feelings.
In our example, you would say something like:
“When this happens, I feel sad. I know you probably did not intend to make me feel this way”
[taking the weight of blame off the table]. Use verbs that describe pure emotions or physical sensations that belong to you. Stay away from verbs that imply an accusation. Stay away from ‘victim’ words.
When you describe your feelings:
Use words such as: sad, unhappy, distressed, afraid, confused, embarrassed, disconnected, pained, tense, vulnerable, anxious.
These words describe something you are feeling that does not contain an implicit accusation and do not cast you as a victim of someone else’s behavior.
Don’t use words such as: disrespected, attacked, blamed, unappreciated, ignored, misunderstood.
These words convey a hidden accusation and are ‘victim’ words.
3- I need
After stating how you feel, you now tell your partner what you need. Needs are based on values that you hold. They are different from “should”s.
In our example, you would say something like: “Sharing responsibility is important to me,” or:
“Maintaining a tidy home is important to me.”
Again, this is about you, not the other person. You are describing your values or needs. Don’t say things like: “You should know better” or “You should be helping around the house.”
By expressing yourself like this, you are inviting the other person to help you rather than demanding they do so.
4- I want
Requests are not demands. Demands may use shame, guilt, fear, or manipulation.
Requests are positive, specific, and doable. They are in the format of “I want” rather than “I don’t want.”
In our example, you would say:
“I want you to remember to remove your dirty mug and place it in the sink before you go to bed.”
You would not say: “I don’t want you to expect me to pick up after you,” or “I don’t want you to be a slob.”
How to talk about menopause
(You can mix the order of the 4 components)
Feeling: I feel irritated.
Observation: …when I see you’ve come home without getting the groceries I asked for.
Request: Would you get the groceries by 5:00 pm today?
Needs/values: I want to know that I have the ingredients I need to cook dinner for the family.”
Observation: You mentioned how irritable and snappy I have been lately!
Feeling: I’m feeling scared and worried about the changes I am experiencing.
Needs/values: I need you to understand what is going on with my body…
Request: Would you be willing to learn more and maybe read a couple of pages about menopause?
Observation: I’m hearing you say you feel that I do not appreciate you
Feeling: and I’m feeling so worried and anxious
Needs/values: It is important to me to show you how much I care about you.
Request: Would you tell me how you want me to love you?”
This method is proven to be very effective when used correctly, but it takes practice.
It seems simple, but it can be challenging when you are feeling exasperated and angry. Taking time to remove yourself from the situation (either physically or mentally) and to take a few breaths really works to calm you down before you start a conversation. That 5 seconds that you take to collect yourself before you start speaking can make all the difference. Sometimes, what seems to be of earth-shattering importance in the moment, shrinks to a small size when we take time to breathe.
Attempting to be calm when we communicate our needs is important because when we communicate in anger, the other person perceives this as an attack and their defenses come up. When they feel attacked, they stop listening, and your purpose is to speak so that others listen. (Read more about communication skills and barriers)
Topics in the communication series
In this series, we will be elaborating in particular situations where you need to communicate with different people in your life about what you are experiencing in menopause. The upcoming blogs will cover the following topics:
How to talk about menopause
How to talk about menopause