Remove term: Julia B. Colwell Julia B. ColwellThese relationship skills last longer than chocolates and flowers.

Have you heard this idea? “Lesbians can’t have real relationships. They can last 2 or 3 years tops, then they move on to the next person. Or else they settle down and have a boring life.”

I have. A lesbian in her 30s told me that a few weeks ago. My heart sank—are women still carrying that around as their picture of relationships?

OK, there’s this one, too. I won’t re-tell the old saw about lesbians and the second date U-Haul. As far as I can see, what women believe about our relationships goes from “Wow! I’m out of the closet! That was so worth it!” to “My relationships are second-rate.”

As we celebrate this season of love, let’s step up and own what’s possible in our female-focused relationships. We know what we want. We want passion and connection and aliveness, to be seen and known for our true selves, and to feel in love the way we did when we were first involved with each other. It’s time to try to learn the skills that will take us there.

Coming out at 16 in the 1970s, I’ve carried my share of internalized homophobia into my relationships.

In the 1980s, that homophobia pervaded psychological thinking, with the prevailing notion that lesbians “merge” in our relationships, creating an unhealthy, mushed-up version of the connection. (I tested that theory out for my dissertation. Bottom line? No, lesbians don’t “merge” more than gay men or straight people. We do, however, have more ongoing, deep emotional connection.)

I’ve spent my career unearthing the qualities that go into creating great relationships: they’re full of passion and allow for full self-expression, and are stable and long-lasting. Between our others-first socialization and all of those motherhood hormones racing through our veins, it can be hard for women to balance maintaining emotional contact and saying what we want. We treasure connection and hate the disconnection of conflict. We tend to stuff what we want and need until it all erupts to the surface in a big fight. Or we don’t fight at all, seeking out the next person who seems to understand us better without our even having to verbalize what we want.

My book, The Relationship Skills Workbook, A Do-it-Yourself Guide to a Thriving Relationship, addresses this difficulty head-on. It’s my answer to the mysterious question that plagues relationships: How can we each have self-expression and still have a deep, ongoing connection?

I’ve discovered and devised powerful tools that support this balancing act between self and others. I’ve found that lesbians are potential pros at forging an entirely new path of relationship, where each person gets to be as big as she truly is while connection thrives. We tend to be particularly motivated to plumb the depths and intricacies of how relationships work. And, as women in a sexist culture, we’re especially tuned into the issues of power that can disrupt the balance of self-expression.

Here’s an excerpt from my book that walks you through the number one skill I believe allows people to express themselves while staying vulnerable and connected: Speaking the unarguable truth.

Speaking the unarguable truth is the most powerful of any skills I have to teach you and, from my experience, the most challenging…We’ve been raised to think critically, and to debate concepts, beliefs, and ideas. Then we get into relationships, where these skills take us straight into escalation and disconnection. Shifting into speaking unarguably can feel like trying to grow a new limb. But it will allow you to walk through life in genuine partnership and intimacy.

Many think we should bring feelings into our conversations and that other people don’t get to tell us how to feel. However, this basic idea tends to run us aground, sounding something like this:

“I feel like you are attacking me.”

“I feel that this is going nowhere.”

“I am sad and hurt that you just don’t consider me.”

Can you argue with these statements? Remember, if you can, they’re arguable. That’s all it takes (and I can for sure argue with each of these sentences). So let’s take this idea of unarguability further.

The goal of moving from arguable to unarguable statements is to get away from blaming and to shift into fully owning and having one’s experience. When we say arguable things, we are projecting our past experiences onto the other person. Occasionally we’re accurate, but for the most part, our projections are wildly off the mark and apt to just pull the other person into whatever old issue we haven’t worked out yet. When we observe these projections for what they are, we have a ticket to healing old wounds. As we watch ourselves get triggered into acting out the old scenarios from our childhood with our partners, it becomes possible to move them out of our bodies. Unfortunately, we generally believe our projections and get our partners to be our co-stars in the old unconscious dramas.

Speaking the unarguable truth takes us beyond all the projections to our only provable truth: our own experience. While we can never be entirely sure of what’s going on outside of our bodies (Is that person really mad at us? Is the economy good or bad? Is that tone rude or too loud or too sharp?), we know that our stomach feels tight or that our jaw is clenched. The skill here is only to speak what we truly know.

So, what is unarguably? Indeed, the only thing someone else can’t argue about is what we are sensing in our bodies, whether we have butterflies in our chest, a headache, or a dry mouth. I will take it a step further and add that no one gets to argue about what we feel or want. So that’s our list of what is unarguable: sensations, emotions, and what we want.” [Excerpt with permission from The Relationship Skills Workbook, published by Sounds True, October 2014.]

Try it now. First, what are your sensations? Close your eyes and take an inner tour. Is your stomach clenched? Is your chest heavy? Do you have a headache or a backache? Do you feel filled with zinging and/ or expansive energy?

Tuning and describing those sensations (to yourself or the other person) might be enough to move you out of a conflict. Just realizing that your body is triggered—and giving it some loving attention— can take you a long way towards resolution. But let’s go further. Link the sensations to emotions.

Our body tells us what we’re feeling by the specific sensations it’s generating. Stomach aches, nausea, butterflies—those are all indicators of fear. A heavy chest or lump in the throat? Those are all sad signals. Neck, shoulder, head tension/achiness? That’s anger. Glad and sexual can feel expansive, warm, pulsating, and sizzling all through the body (with particular focus on the erogenous zones).

Still with me? So sensations tell you what your emotions are. Very simple. (And—who knew?) The next part of tuning into what’s unarguable is to let yourself FEEL what you’re feeling. Don’t skip over this. It will just take a few minutes to breathe and let yourself feel how mad, sad, glad, scared, or sexual you are. And that’s the part that’s really going to move you out of the conflict. It’s what you’re not feeling that’s keeping you stuck.

We’ve got sensations, which tie to emotions. And, once you’ve felt what you’re feeling, saying what you want or don’t want (which are also unarguable) is pretty straightforward.

So, when one of you wanted to have sex, the other wasn’t “in the mood?” Instead of the arguable “You never want me” or “You’re always pushing me”, it would sound like “I’m tight all over. I’m afraid you’re not attracted to me. I want to feel connected.” Or “My jaw is tight. I feel angry. I want time to feel that.”

Do you see how the blame drops away? If there’s no attack, there’s no need to defend, enabling connection, understanding, and mutual support. And we get to be seen for the experience we’re having right at the moment. Our vulnerability becomes our strength, as the other can see and hear us.

So, for this Valentine’s Day, give each other something priceless—a commitment to learning to speak about what’s going on. Long after the chocolate has been eaten or the flowers have faded, this present will keep your connection deep, your passion strong, and your love alive.

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