ARTICLE: I don’t want to connect!

If you’re reading this you are probably interested in how you can change some relationship or other so that it’s more enjoyable, or less painful. Relationships are about communication; so learning different ways to communicate seems like a potentially useful place to put your attention, right? Then you read an article like Connection First and it tells you to focus on connecting when you’re in a conversation. All very well, except I sometimes hear people say “I don’t want to connect!”

For example:
“My housemate traps me in the kitchen and drones on about her boyfriend – the last thing I want is more connection with her!”
“My boyfriend started studying to be a therapist and now he wants to process our feelings when I just want a glass of wine and a movie. He says he wants connection, I tell him I want disconnection!
“My sister blames me for the pain she’s in, and I just can’t stand to listen to it. Don’t tell me I’ve got to connect more with her!”

To a large extent, this might just come down to how we’re using the words. I’m using the word “connection” to point at something that is probably not happening in any of the scenarios I’ve just described. Listening, or half listening, when you don’t really want to, is not what I’d call connection. So, in all of my examples, I’d say connection is actually missing. No matter how we use these words though – what are some alternatives in these moments that might work better for you and the other person?

Let’s start at one extreme. You’re tired, or stressed, or busy, or frustrated, and you’re pretty sure you’re about to say something that will damage the relationship. Don’t force yourself to stay. Exit or change the conversation quickly with all the kindness and authenticity you can muster. Sometimes this will sound abrupt.

“You know, I need to take off right now. Let’s talk another time.” Period. Leave. Better this than what you were about to say.

Sometimes you’ll find more gentleness, and if you can do so sincerely, indicate that you’ll be willing to resume the conversation some other time.

“Sounds like a tough time with your boyfriend. I’d like to catch up with you another time about it though. I’m super tired right now, so I’m going to go finish some things up so I can go to bed.”
“I’m not up for processing through our feelings right now. I know I don’t have the mental focus for it. Can we plan another time to talk about this?”
“I can see you’re in a lot of pain about this, and at the same time I can tell I’m not really able to listen as openly as I’d like right now, so I’d like to change topics. We can talk more about this some other time.”

A second scenario is one in which you stay in the conversation, with the intention of taking a closer look at what’s happening. You’re bored or uncomfortable, but you’re not about to flare up. Perhaps you’re nervous about the repercussions of leaving the conversation. Either way you decide to use the moment to investigate what’s happening more. It might be necessary to do the this soon after the conversation ends. But if you’re already not really listening to the other person fully, you might as well take some seconds to do the following investigation inside your own head.

Start with yourself. Remember that you’re choosing in each moment whether to stay in the conversation. Connect to yourself about that – what are you hoping to get, what are you getting, and what are you not getting. “I’m staying here because I’m scared of more conflict if I leave. I don’t want more conflict, so what I do want is peace and harmony between us. So, I’m staying here in the hopes of greater peace and harmony. If I leave I’ll be anxious about what the other person is thinking of me, so by staying here I’m getting relative calmness and peace of mind. What I’m not getting is a sense of self-respect, or enjoyment, or a sense that I’m really making a contribution here.”

Now consider the other person – just to guess at what’s happening for them. What are they hoping to get from this conversation, what are they getting, what are they not getting? “She’s in a tough situation with her boyfriend and just wants to talk to someone about it, to get it off her chest, to relieve her pain and confusion. Maybe she’s getting that to some extent, but maybe not, because I’m not really trying to empathize or support right now. So, I’m not sure if she’s getting the kind of relief she wants or not.”

Notice how you feel in response to each of your answers. My hope is that you can find compassion at least for yourself, no matter what you’re feeling. Nervous, agitated, impatient, disappointed with yourself – whatever you’re feeling is just a message from you to you, giving you information about whether what’s happening right now is working for you. And I also hope you might be able to feel a little softer toward the other person too. Guessing at what is going on for them does not mean you have to stay in the conversation, it just means you’re remembering that they’re experiencing emotions and desires just like you do.

Very often, this brief exercise will actually give you a sense of connection to yourself and the other person that was previously absent. And you might get in touch with something you’re willing to say to the other person, which will suddenly turn a conversation you were really not enjoying and wanted to get away from into an enjoyable experience of connection with another person.

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