Esther Perel is a Belgian psychotherapist notable for exploring the tension between the need for security and the need for freedom in human relationships. She is the author of ‘Mating in Captivity,’ and you can view her TED talks on YouTube.
I thought it would be interesting to share her thoughts on what she calls Generative Communication. This is something I often talk about with clients and I really like what she has to say about it. I have edited it a little but in essence, it is her words. Hope you find it helpful and thought-provoking.
Generative communication is about being reflective rather than reactive. It’s basically the idea that if I’m going to talk to you and you to me, we’re going to be more connected at the end of the conversation, rather than disconnected.
If when you talk to your partner you feel worse afterwards and more isolated, then you’re not in the realm of generativity.
Generativity means that you give birth to something; that something emanates, comes out of this conversation. You feel closer, more understood, more empathized with, validated and recognized and you do the same for the other. That is generative communication.
In the beginning, when you meet, there is space between two people. This is why people say to me all the time, ‘We used to talk so much; we talked so well at first.’ So many people miss that communication. A can talk to B, and B will listen to A and not yet feel personally involved, so they can actually listen and receive without being so reactive. They are more able to be reflective. It is about the ability to acknowledge what your partner is telling you without instantly having to have a response to it. Just receive it. Acknowledge it. Maybe see its value.
If having a conversation face-to-face is difficult, I always recommend writing. When you write, first of all, you have a chance to edit yourself and your partner has a chance to read without being instantly reactive. Don’t just write a storm of complaints and attacks and blames because that is not generative.
‘I remember and… I think of you and…I realize that I’s been a long time since…I miss and…I wish that we could….and I would like this for you….and I hope for us…’ This is generative language. It is language that opens a possibility.
Generative is one in which you actually talk for what you long for, what you want and what you miss. Not what the other person isn’t doing. It is taking responsibility for yourself, your thoughts, feelings, responses and owning these and then communicating them with ‘I’ statements; how ‘I’ feel or think about this rather than how ‘You’ make me feel.