After 6 plus decades of experience in relationships combined with 4 decades of clinical training and doing relationship therapy, I’ve come to realize that the inability to give and receive feedback applies to all people and relationships, in therapy or otherwise, is practically universal. Despite how important being honest and real is or how much you wish to be and talk about being honest and real with each other, when it comes down to giving and receiving feedback, the communication tends to devolve, regardless what the topic is. Once the feedback gets or feels personal, tension builds, the emotional atmosphere intensifies, buttons get pushed, defensive reactivity derails the conversation and its downhill from there.
A common example of a prompt that most people would have difficulty with hearing or saying what one’s honest take is, but one that is a standard ‘must’ conversation in relationship therapy circles is. How do you feel towards your loved one and in the relationship? What makes giving and receiving feedback a practically universal stumbling block? I believe that the answer is the ambivalence around being honest and real. While they probably wouldn’t admit it, most people would prefer to hear what they want to hear or would make them feel good, rather than hearing the truth regarding what they’re really feeling or thinking at that particular moment about whatever the topic is.
On the same token, most people have difficulty giving a loved one honest feedback because of concern about how the other person might feel being on the receiving end of your honesty, so they’d be more inclined to tailor their feedback accordingly. So, if ever you have the inclination or desire to give or receive feedback about anyone or number of topics, it will be incumbent upon you to ask yourself, and if possible, have a conversation in which you’re both answering the question, “Do you want me to be honest and real or say what you want to hear?”
In this conversation, both align in purpose to establish being honest and real with each other their top priority above making the other person feel better, and not to tailoring each other’s communication accordingly. When you’re beating around the bush or holding back from sharing your experience, it has the effect of diluting that substance of the conversation and keeping it more superficial and narrowly focused and much harder to connect. Honest feedback holds much greater bonding potential. Yes. Rely on the connections you make and intimacy you create for sustenance!
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