I often view relationships like beautiful little plants, which with the right amount of love, attention and nurturing can grow into beautiful strong trees, with sweet fruits and a constant shelter for life. Relationships are very delicate, much like the plants. Harshness either kills the plant, or withers it for life….much like our relationships. Communication is key to any relationship. Even plants grow healthier when we talk to them with love.

In our society, those who speak up are often seen as trouble-makers, tattletales, and complainers. Even in personal relationships, we’ve developed into a culture of dishonesty-by-omission, i.e. avoiding conflict and confrontations at all cost, and censoring ourselves even when speaking up would be healthier and more freeing. We often wait – way too long – to say anything, until when we finally speak up, it’s a disaster. After all, if we’ve accumulated either a dozen issues or let the same issue come up a dozen times without saying anything, by the time we do talk, we’re way too upset to communicate clearly and effectively. The negative response we then receive when we explode, causes us to keep things in even more often (we equate explosive sharing with “telling the truth” and think it can only get us into trouble).

By cultivating courage and a sense of our own self worth, we can begin to break the old patterns, speak up more quickly, easily, and naturally, and get a much better reception.

Here is how we can do just that:

1. Lower the upset level before talking

If you are too upset, don’t speak until you’ve discharged a lot of feelings on your own. Otherwise, you won’t able to hear the other person’s side of the story and reach resolution. Restore your centeredness before speaking. You can release the tensions and return to clarity physically – by walking, working, dancing, pounding pillows; or internally – via meditation or inner processes like deep breathing, or other forms of expression – e.g. writing, humming, or whatever else harmlessly gets things “off your chest” and restores your equilibrium.

2. Consider the receiver

If the other person is too upset to listen, give them time to get centered or release their tensions, so that they can hear you better.

However, there are some people who simply cannot listen to you without either shutting you off, retaliating, or holding it against you. For these people, you need to assess whether to stay relating to them. If not, you need to allow yourself the permission to end the connection peacefully.

If you do want to maintain the connection and — for your self respect – need to communicate to them, consider alternatives such as writing a letter (which can be polished before sending and which is essentially a monologue by you and cannot be interrupted), or talking to the person in the presence of a neutral third party (mediator, spiritual advisor, therapist, mutual friend).

3. How much to say

Often, a person cannot digest more than three pieces of input at one time. Input that is critical or charged can be very hard to receive, so focus on one issue at a time.

Keep to one or two issues that you want resolved or at least shared. Try not to get sidetracked into other issues – either by your own thinking process or by the other person – and keep to the most recent occurrences of an issue and don’t “make a case” by bringing up too many examples at once. You don’t want to overwhelm the listener, you want them to be able to hear you and learn. Additionally, most people cannot process productively, in any one sitting, for more than an hour, so don’t try to resolve everything at once.

4. Don’t wait too long

If an issue comes up, it is better to speak about it soon because:

a. the other person might forget it even happened.

b. the issue might grow in tension inside you.

c. the same issue may recur.

d. it is a good practice to stay current.

5. Don’t give up

Even if the issue is years old, it is not too late to bring it up. If it is still bothering you, then it is interfering with the relationship and needs to be cleared (either within yourself or inter-personally).

6. Know your limits

Stay in touch with your own breathing, heart rate, and re-activeness during any major talk. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed, defensive, shutting down, or unable to hear, let the other person know you need a bit of time to re-align, and stop for a minute (or more) and tune in to what you need. If either person needs a longer break, make a commitment to return to the discussion at a specific (future) time.

7. Clear by yourself

When you’ve already brought up an issue but still can’t let go of it, then you have to find a way to heal yourself.

Remember , if you have a great deal of charge on the present issue, early life memories and trauma have probably been triggered and need attention.

Whether you work with a counselor or healer or body worker, or do inner processes, or examine the karmic patterns going on (e.g. with a psychic), or find another method; you need to take responsibility for “good heart-keeping”, i.e. healing yourself and finding your way back to wholeness.

8. Don’t over-process

There is the temptation to try to correct every issue that comes up, and to process most of your issues inter-personally. Don’t. Choose the most important things to talk about, and limit how often (and for how long in one session) you bring issues up. I’ve seen couples process endlessly to no avail, and make much more progress once they limited their processing sessions to once a week.

9. Reach resolution

Find out (from your partner and yourself) what it will take to resolve an issue. Aim towards the goal of solution.

A few years back I was researching and experimenting on successful relationships. After winnowing down the potential couples from over a thousand to just ten, I then interviewed each couple to find out what made their relationship work. The answers from every couple were the same: “Relationships are hard work because you’re dealing with another person, and you need to be willing to work steadily throughout the relationship to tend to its needs.”

But they all agreed it’s worth the effort.

We need to realize, that ultimately if we are at peace with ourselves, everything and every relationship around us and within us will be that of peace and love.