If you’ve experienced some discord when completing the feedback exercise, it no doubt relates to the distance between your self-perceptions and the perceptions of your partner. Whilst this can be initially uncomfortable, it can also be recognized as an opportunity.
So how do I regain my footing after being thrown off balance?
Many years ago, early in my marriage, my wife and I were experiencing a breakdown in communication, because our perceptions and expectations were out of alignment. We had some counselling at the time and the exercise that helped us then, continues to be a valuable tool that we use to help us when we’re struggling to communicate. It is called the Declaration.
If I’m feeling a lack of self-expression in our relationship or if my wife is doing things that are causing me to be upset, I will ask her if we can do a Declaration. As we both recognize the power in the exercise, she always says yes. Make sure you have buy-in from your partner to explore this and be prepared to repeat the exercise every day for a month if required.
The Declaration (Video at end)
Sit comfortably across from each other so that you can look each other in the eye.
The first person (in this case, you) says to the other:
I know what I’m about to say isn’t real or true, but it feels real to me now.
Please help me to release this completely.
Then you simply state what is occurring for you.
For example: “I’m feeling hurt by your perceptions of how I communicate with you. I feel like you have misread my intentions …. Etc etc”
Effectively, all you are doing with this exercise is creating a space where you can verbalise whatever is going on for you, but with the declaration, you are acknowledging that you know your perspective is not the truth, even though it might feel like it. So you simply want to get it out, so it no longer has a strong emotional pull on you.
Your partner can help facilitate at moments when you pause during your declaration, by simply saying “Is there anything else?”
You can then continue “vomiting” into the emotional sick bag that you’ve created in your declaration.
When you think you are done, you simply say to your partner, “Thank you for listening”.
And that’s it.
You can then reverse roles and your partner can start by making the declaration and you can hold the “vomit” bag for them.
When you are both done, you’ll know you have completed the exercise appropriately as you’ll both feel lighter and might even be laughing at yourselves for the perspectives you’ve been holding. It will enable you to feel closer to each other and will certainly allow for greater empathy and understanding.
Don’t be concerned if you’re not clear after the first attempt here. When my wife and I first engaged in this exercise, we did it at least once a day for a month before we found the bottom of our emotional effluent tanks.
The trick with this exercise is to be honest with yourself. It is easy to use it as a way to make the other person wrong, by projecting all of the reasons you see them as wrong. However, done in the spirit of wanting to clear your emotional baggage, and by declaring that you recognize that your perspective may not be the truth, then you open up the possibility for viewing the issue from a fresh perspective. This creates an opening for healing in the relationship.