Foundations: Proactive Vs. Reactive Communication

Season 1 Episode 7 of Better Relationships After Baby Podcast

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Show Notes and Helpful Links:

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TLDR Podcast Notes

  • When we are in reactive communication, we are reacting to the situation and this is often emotion-driven and escalated
  • When we are in proactive communication, we are anticipating and guiding the upcoming needs and tasks
  • You can never be 100% proactive, but there are many things you can be proactive about to make space for the times when reactive is needed
  • Proactive conversation is teamwork that helps you stay aligned and manage expectations and outcomes

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Transcription of this podcast episode: Proactive Vs. Reactive Communication in Your Relationship

Hello parents and welcome back to the podcast. If you’re listening for the first time, I am like, just reaching through this microphone, giving you a big hug a warm welcome and letting you know that you are in a safe place a warm place, a place that accepts you exactly as you are and where you are. And a place that is committed to helping you get even closer to your goals and your vision and the life that you want. As a parent and as a partner. And if you have returned to the podcast again, I didn’t scare you away last time you listened. I’m so thankful, I’m really excited to have you returning and tuning in and listening and learning and giving feedback on the episodes, it has been a really fun launch and start of the better relationships after baby podcast.

And this podcast is here just for that to help our communities in our society by helping families and we help families by helping parents be strong and competent and connected in their partnership journey so that we can lay the foundation for families ahead. So to those of you who celebrated Father’s Day, this past weekend, Happy Father’s Day to you. Personally, I am coming off of the cusp of closing on our house and celebrating that and then celebrating Father’s Day. And my menstrual cycle being popped right in the middle of there. And I’m feeling a little exhausted and also really giddy and really excited about today’s topic and about the clients that I get to meet with this afternoon. So all of that to say, welcome or welcome back.

Life and Relationship Coach for New Parents

And let’s have just a really sweet time together. Today, we’re going to be talking about something that I just worked through with a client. And for those of you who don’t know, I am a life and relationship coach for new parents. So sometimes I work with moms solo, we do one on one sessions and really dig into their identity and their transformation and who they want to grow into as moms and women and partners. And other times I work with both parts of the couples. So I’ll work with, for example, mom and dad. And we will rotate weeks and get really in intentional about the same topic and how they are communicating and connecting over that topic so that they can get aligned and on the same team, and then have an incredible foundation for their family from that.

So there is a couple that I was working with recently. And we were able to identify this point in their conversations when just talking, just having a conversation turned into chaos and hurt and the blame and frustration. One of my favorite things is to get really nitty gritty about the patterns that we get into, especially in our communication, and identify where they take a turn from productive, helpful, respectful to the kinds of conversations that leave us feeling more disconnected from our partners more distant, more defensive, those things that create not the ideal situation for us. So as I was working through this with this couple, we were able to talk about today’s topic, which is proactive versus reactive communication. And we were able to realize that they were having a lot of reactive conversation, a lot of reactive communication, and in order to improve the communication, and in order to get out of some of those patterns in cycles that were harmful, we needed to establish a space for more proactive communication. And I’m gonna get really clear about those terms for you guys in just a minute.

Why Reactive Communication Happens for New Parents

But I want to say that reactive communication is really common, especially as new parents. And this is because we’re addressing new things. And so we might not know how or when or why to prepare for them. We have little time to sleep and little time to talk and little energy for ourselves. And so a lot of things feel like survival mode and survival mode is very much tied with reactive communication. And I want to start by saying wherever you are in your relationship and in your communication right Now that is okay, we are going to start there, and we are not going to stay there. So the key here is we’re not going to shame where you are right now. And we are also in the same breath, going to say, this is where we are. And we want to get to another point, we want to get to more respectful communication, more teamwork, more collaboration. So if we are criticizing ourselves for where we are, that’s not really a helpful starting point. So we just recognize this is where we are, this is what has gotten us to this point, we have survived, right? And we have gotten through. However, in order to really speak to the longevity and the growth, we want to see, we are going to move in a direction towards more proactive, respectful communication. Okay, so that is our starting point.

What is Reactive and Proactive Communication?

And with that, let’s just look at these words proactive and reactive, they’re not fancy. And I use these terms, because I think we can really use them tangibly, we can understand when they’re happening, and oftentimes, why they’re happening. And then we can work to shift more of our communication from reactive to proactive, so maybe right now, maybe 90% of your communication is reactive, especially if you’re in those first few weeks and couple of months after baby, literally, so much feels like a reaction. So maybe you would say 90% of our conversations are in reaction mode, they are reactive, and 10% are in proactive, then great. That’s where we start. And our goal is going to be maybe to move to 8020, and then 70/30, and then 60/40. And then 50/50. I don’t think we’re ever going to get to 0/100. Because things come up, right. But we want to move the needle so that we have more and more proactive opportunities.

So what does that mean? The word proactive means creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen, rather than responding to it after it has happened. I’ll read that again. Proactive means creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen, rather than responding to it after it has happened. So that is what we are going for more and more of here. Reactive, on the other hand, is defined by acting in response to a situation rather than creating or controlling it, again, reactive acting in response to a situation rather than creating or controlling it. Let’s dig into what this looks like in our conversations and in a very tangible place. When it comes to our relationship.

Examples of Communication in Relationships After a Baby

I’m going to start with the example of the load of chores and house tasks. Okay, so let me give you a couple of examples that often lead to frustration, resentment, disagreements. And just not the best place you want to be in our relationship.

This is when maybe it’s 9pm. And your partner is like, “hey, what can I do?”

And you’re like, “Excuse me, what can you do? Could you just stop and look around this whole house and find something to do? Like, I want to tell you what to do. I’m not your mom, I’m not your babysitter, I don’t want to tell you what to do.”

Okay, this is coming out of a reactionary place.

Another example would be if you’re getting ready to go somewhere, and you haven’t really talked with your partner about this. And then we get into this disagreement about, well, why are we going or should we go? Or did we have plans for this, and it can cause some resentment, maybe someone feels like their toes got stepped on or they weren’t a part of the planning process. Reaction is going to happen very naturally. In some situations.

However, there are a lot of situations where this can be avoided and changed into a proactive conversation.

So for example, if it’s the middle of the night, and the baby is waking up sick and they have a fever, you could not have plans for that you could not have put that on your calendar and had a conversation proactively about that night in that situation. So you’re going to have to work together reacting to the situation, it was an uncontrolled situation. So this is why I don’t say the goal is to have 100% proactive conversations here.

But let’s go back to those things that we can be proactive about. This can be the house tasks that needs to be done. It can be the schedules and To the appointments or social gatherings for the week, it can be whether or not the night is going to end in sex, it can be a date night, it can be, when the in laws are coming to visit, right? There are a lot of times where we can have proactive conversations. And there are a lot of personal things that can happen in a proactive conversation too.

Your Partner’s Annoying Habits

So let’s say that your partner has a habit of leaving the dishes beside the sink, and you really want them in the sink. And so you can do this reactively when they put the dishes in the sink, saying, Honey, how many times do I have to tell you the dishes go in the sink? Why is this not getting through to you? Are you an idiot? Like what is wrong with you? This is reaction, okay, you’re reacting to the situation. However, you could take note of this, that they’re doing this habit and it annoys you. And you can say, You know what, there’s not like this isn’t a life or death situation. This is not impending harm on anyone. However, I would really like it if they could change this habit.

So at a different time, not reacting to the situation in real time, at a different time, it may be appropriate to say, Hey, honey, there’s something that has been bothering me and I don’t know if it’s a big deal or not. But if you could put the dishes into the sink instead of beside the sink, after you’re done with them, that would help take out a step of the dishes process. And I know it seems small, but it would be really helpful.

So what we’re doing here is we’re not getting into the blame and the disgust in real time. But we’re taking that. And maybe you notice it, maybe you notice it on Wednesday afternoon. And so you pop it in your calendar for Wednesday night or Thursday to not have the conversation in real time when you have heated emotions about it. But to bring it up, and not just sweep it under the rug because you deserve to bring it up. But to bring it up in a container that is safe and proactive and planned for when we’re having proactive conversations, they’re more likely to be logistical and strategic and able to get to the end goal.

Often when we’re having a reactive conversation, when we’re reacting to a situation or something our partner has said or done, then we have a lot of emotions that are coming into play, we’re more likely to bring out past situations to pull out resentments or maybe that card, that one thing that you bring up in an argument to really to make that last jab, those things are more likely to come up in a in a reactive conversation.

Creating More Proactive Communication in Your Relationship

And this is why we want to change the percentage why we want to move the needle, because the reactive conversations are what tend to be more hurtful, more harmful. We say things we don’t mean, we pull out those jabs to just try to really stick it in and drive it home, it doesn’t usually end up very pretty. S

o a couple of tips that I have for you as you’re starting to think about this to start to think about moving from less reactive to more proactive conversations.

Having a Business Meeting with Your Partner

  1. One is having a family business meeting, you’ve probably already heard me mention this on prior episodes or on Instagram. I talk about this a lot. But a family business meeting is an intentional place where you come together to discuss the things that need to be done any topics at hand any decisions that need to be made. I recommend doing this. One evening a week I have clients that like to do this on Friday nights, Saturday mornings, Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, or maybe there’s a weekday that works for you. But what you’re going to bring to this is maybe it is divvying up the chores for the week, maybe you swap chores or maybe you have regular chores, but figuring out who’s doing what instead of keeping an expectation in your head and getting pissed off when it’s not met by your partner.

    We want to get your expectations out front and be able to discuss who is going to take care of what around the home. This also applies to things like appointments, social gatherings, conversations that need to be had with family members or friends. This can include upcoming decisions, maybe your baby is getting close to the age where they’re going to be eating solid. So maybe you both need to do a little research about purees or baby led weaning and have a conversation about what direction you want to go and how you’re going to communicate that to one another and to other people. These things work really well in a proactive container. I like to look at this, like a job like you are working with a co worker on a project and your home and your baby are the project So you need to have research. As part of some of those, you need to know who’s doing what you need to have clear, respectful communication in timelines around this. And it’s not sexy, it doesn’t sound sexy. But what is sexy about it is that it pulls more and more conversation towards proactive, less towards reactive. So you have less disconnect, you have less fights, you have less resentment, you have more opportunities to then connect mentally, emotionally, physically, in all these more intimate ways, because you have the other things taken care of. These are great examples. For proactive conversations.

    Make a Time for Important Conversations
  2. Another thing like I mentioned earlier, is if it’s not an emergency situation, and you don’t feel like you can bring something up, like the dishes being beside the sink, if you don’t feel like you can bring it up really respectfully in the moment, then table it, make a reminder in your phone, or put it in your planner for tomorrow to bring it up in a more proactive container than reacting to the situation at hand. This is also a great time to think about having a little word where you interrupt a pattern. So for some of my couples, they know that they start to get into this pattern, someone brings something up, someone reacts to it, someone’s feelings are hurt, someone gets defensive, because their feelings are hurt, someone says something even more mean, because their feelings were hurt, you know, this, this pattern that goes back and forth.

    And so in that case, I encourage you to have some kind of interrupter. And this could be a phrase as simple as like, let’s table this, and let’s talk about it tomorrow afternoon. So that you can remove yourself from the reactive space, put yourself in a proactive space and be able to talk about it, then this might also just need to be something silly, like based on personalities, my clients have sometimes just use a phrase like Flamingo lips. And that means stop talking. This is not going in the direction we want it to go. And we’re going to pick it up another time. So this is different for everyone.

    Other Helpful Episodes to Listen To

    And I think another great episode to listen to, if you’re listening to this, and it’s hitting some of these important points for you, to episodes to listen to are the internal versus external processor, this is really going to help you know how to table something with respect to processing styles, as well as the episode about reasons your partner isn’t helping more in which we talk about controlling how things are done and when and where to let go of some control so that your partner can step up and can build their confidence a little bit more as a leader in your home. But I wanted to bring you this idea of proactive and reactive conversation. And I’m sure that we’ll get into it again in future episodes. But I wanted to plant this seed in your brains. So that you can be identifying when you are being proactive about your conversation and your communication.

    And when you’re in reaction mode and start to take notes start to get curious:
    What comes out in those two different situations?
    How do I feel after having a conversation that is reactive?
    Versus how do I feel when we have a conversation that is proactive?
    When do we reach a solution?
    When do we reach our goals more?

    Help yourself by getting curious about your own experience and asking your partner about their experience so that you can keep moving this needle a little bit more every day towards proactive, respectful, team based just strong communication. That is what I want to see for you. Because not only is that great communication, but that is a big factor in our connection and our mutual respect in the foundation that we are building for our kids to see what teamwork is and what communication is.

    This has so many implications. And I guarantee you that as you move the needle from reactive to more proactive communication, you’re going to feel better, you’re going to see more outcomes from your conversations. You’re going to have less resentment permeating your body, you’re going to feel like there is more space to connect with your partner and that is what I want to see for you.

    So get mindful, get curious about this. And let me know if there are situations that come up for you over the next couple of weeks where you’re able to identify that you are in reaction mode or maybe you’re really proud of moving into proactive mode. This is something that I help my clients do on a regular basis. And I would love to hear what you are able to accomplish in your own home. As always parents you are doing a great job as you are seeing you are valued. This is not a walk in the park but this is a really really cool season of transformation that has high highs and low lows.

But I promised you that this intentional work around your communication, your connection and your personal competence is going to yield the results and the life in the fullness that you are looking for and that you deserve. Keep it up

Published by Chelsea Skaggs: Coach

Chelsea is the queen of taboo topics and new-mom life. Postpartum Together (Blog & Groups) and The WTF Trimester (Relationships and coaching) are your go-to places for life after baby. We focus on communication, connection, and confidence. As a life coach for moms and couples, Chelsea helps you have your strongest relationship with yourself and with your partner, even after baby.

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